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Unions Representing Hollywood Writers and Actors Seek Limits on A.I. and Chatbots

When the union representing Hollywood writers drew up its list. Objectives In contract negotiations with studios this spring, it included familiar language on compensation, which writers say has either stagnated or dropped amid the explosion of new shows.

But deep down, the document clearly added a 2023 twist. Under the title “Professional Standards and Protection in the Employment of Writers,” the union wrote that it aims to “regulate the use of content produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”

In the mix of computer programmers, Marketing copywriters, Travel advisor, Lawyers And Humorous illustrator Suddenly alarmed by the growing potential of creative AI, anyone can now add screenwriters.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibility that before 2026, the next time we talk to these companies, they might go, ‘You know, we’re good,'” Mike Shore said. Co-creator of “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation.”

“We don’t need you,” he imagines hearing from the other side. “We have a bunch of AIs making a bunch of entertainment that people are kind of okay with.”

In their efforts to push back, the writers have what many other white-collar workers lack: a labor union.

Mr. Shore, who serves on the Writers Guild of America’s bargaining committee as it tries to avert a strike before its contract expires Monday, said the union hopes to “draw a line in the sand right now.” And they will say, ‘Writers are human beings.'”

But historians say unions have generally failed to rein in new technologies that enable automation or the replacement of skilled labor with less skilled labor. “I’m at a loss to think of a union that was able to succeed and benefit from it,” said Jason Resenkopf, an assistant professor of history at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who studies labor and automation. “

The fortunes of writers, actors and directors negotiating new deals this year may say a lot about whether this pattern will continue in the age of artificial intelligence.

In December, Apple A service introduced Allowing book publishers to use human-voiced AI narrators is an innovation that could displace the hundreds of voice actors who create live performance audiobooks. The company’s website says the service will benefit freelance writers and small publishers.

“I know somebody always has to get there first, some company,” said Chris Ciola, who estimates he’s made $100,000 to $130,000 a year over the past five years describing the books under union contracts. are “But for individuals not to understand how it can affect the narrator taking it out there is ultimately frustrating.”

Other actors worry that studios will use AI to duplicate their voices while cutting them out of the process. “We’ve seen it happen — there are websites that have popped up with databases of character voices from video games and animation,” said Lynsey Russo, an actress who makes a living doing voice work.

On-camera actors point out that studios already use motion capture or performance capture to mimic actors’ movements or facial expressions. Blockbuster of 2018″Black CheetahThis technology was relied upon for scenes showing hundreds of tribesmen on rocks, and to simulate the movements of dancers hired to perform for the film.

Some actors fear that new versions of the technology will allow studios to effectively steal their movements, “creating new performances in the style of a wushu master or a karate master, and that person’s style.” would use without consent,” said Zeke Alton, a voice and screen actor. Joe sits on the board of his union local SAG-AFTRA in Los Angeles.

And Hollywood writers have become increasingly restless as ChatGPT has become adept at mimicking the style of famous writers.

“At the beginning of the negotiations with the guild, we talked about what I call the Nora Ephron problem,” said John August, who sits on the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee. “Which is basically: What happens if you feed all of Nora Ephron’s scripts into a system and develop an AI that can create scripts with Nora Ephron’s voice?”

Mr. August, a screenwriter for films such as “Charlie’s Angels” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” said that in Writers Guild negotiations when artificial intelligence pushed back on compensation, the union made two key demands on the topic. was doing of automation.

It wants to ensure that no literary content — scripts, treatments, sketches or even discrete scenes — can be written or rewritten by chatbots. “A nightmare case of, ‘Oh, I read your scripts, I didn’t like the scene, so I had ChatGPT rewrite the scene’ – it’s a nightmare,” Mr August said. ” said Mr. August.

The guild also wants to ensure that studios can’t use chatbots to develop source material that’s adapted to the screen by humans, the way they might adapt a novel or magazine story.

SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, says most of its members are flagging individual employment contracts in which studios claim the right to use their voices to create new performances.

A recent Netflix agreement seeks to grant the company free use of an actor’s voice reproduction “through all technologies and processes now known or hereafter developed, throughout the universe and forever.” of the.”

Netflix said the language had been in place for several years and allowed the company to make one actor’s voice sound like another’s if there was a casting change between seasons of an animated production.

The union has Its members said are not bound by contractual provisions that would allow a producer to impersonate new performances without compensating the actors, although he has sometimes intervened to compensate them.

SAG-AFTRA Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said such contracts pose a huge risk to non-union actors, who can become unwitting accomplices in their depredations. “It only takes one or a few instances to have your rights waived on a lifetime basis and really potentially negatively impact your career prospects,” Mr Crabtree-Ireland said.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of major Hollywood studios with various unions representing writers, actors and directors, declined to comment.

When professionals have resisted obsolescence at the hands of technology, the result often reflects the status and prestige of their profession.

This seems to have happened to some extent with airline pilots, whose crew size was reduced to two on most domestic commercial flights by the late 1990s, but has largely leveled off since then. , even as automated technology has become far more sophisticated and explored by industry A further reduction.

“The safety net you have when you’re high above the ground — the one that keeps you from hitting the ground — two highly trained, experienced, relaxed Doers are pilots.” which represents American Airlines pilots. To date, flight times of more than nine hours require a minimum of three pilots.

The replacement of some doctors by artificial intelligence, which some experts predicted was imminent in fields like radiology, has also failed to materialize. This is partly due to Limitations Because of the technology, and the stature of physicians who have included themselves in high-level conversations about the safety and deployment of AI, The American College of Radiology Data Science Institute Partly for this purpose A few years ago.

Whether screenwriters find similar success will depend at least in part on whether there are inherent limitations to the machines they intend to do. Some writers and actors speak of a so-called uncanny valley from which algorithms can never fully escape.

“Artists look at everything that’s ever been created and find something new,” said Javier Grillo-Marcswich, writer and producer of “Lost” and “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.” “What the machine is doing is reconciling.”

Although there are sophisticated algorithms, the fortunes of writers and actors will also depend on how well they protect their status. How good are they at convincing the audience that they should care if a human is involved?

Unions are pressing their case. Mr. August says it falls to the Writers Guild, not the studios, to determine who gets writer credit on a project, and that the union will guard that custom jealously. “We want to make sure that an AI is never just one of the authors on a project’s title chain,” he said.

SAG-AFTRA’s Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said unions also have legal cards to play, similar to the U.S. Copyright Office announcement. In March Content that is generated entirely by algorithms is not eligible for copyright protection. If there are no legal barriers to copying a production, it is difficult to monetize it.

Perhaps even more important, he said, is what you might call the Us Weekly factor — the audience’s tendency to be as interested in the person behind the character as in the performance. Fans want Hollywood celebrities to discuss their methods in interviews. They want to see the fashion sensibilities of actors and want to date them.

“If you look at the culture in general, the audience is generally interested in the real lives of our members,” Mr Crabtree Ireland said. “AI is not in a position to replace its critical elements.”



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