October 3, 2023

when the union representing hollywood writers made its list Target For contract talks with studios this spring, it included familiar compensation language that writers say stalled or dropped as new shows proliferated.

But further afield, the document added an apparent 2023 turning point. Under a section titled “Professional Standards and Protections in Employment of Writers,” the union wrote that its purpose is to “regulate material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies.”

For computer programmer, marketing copywriter combinations, travel Consultants, lawyers, and comic book illustrators, suddenly struck by the growing capabilities of generative AI, can now add screenwriters.

“Before 2026, which is the next time we negotiate with these companies, they’ll probably say, ‘You know what, we’re fine,'” said Mike Schur, author of “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation” co-founder.

“We don’t need you,” he imagined hearing the voice from the other side. “We have a bunch of AIs that are creating a bunch of entertainment that people can enjoy.”

In their attempt to fight back, writers have something that many other white-collar workers don’t: unions.

Mr. Schur, who sits on the negotiations committee of the Writers Guild of America, which is trying to avoid a strike before its contract expires on Monday, said the union wanted to “draw the line now and say, ‘Writers are human beings.'”

But historians say unions have often failed to control new technologies that could automate or replace skilled labor with low-skilled labor. “I can’t think of a single union that has been brave enough to do this,” said Jason Resnikoff, an assistant professor of the history of labor and automation at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

The fate of writers, actors and directors negotiating new contracts this year could say a lot about whether that pattern continues into the age of artificial intelligence.

december apple introduce a service Allowing book publishers to use human-sounding AI narrators, the innovation could replace hundreds of voice actors who make a living performing audiobooks. The company’s website says the service will benefit independent authors and small publishers.

“I knew someone had to get there first, some company,” said Chris Ciulla, who estimates he’s made $100,000 to $130,000 a year under his union contract over the past five years. “But for those who don’t understand how this affects the bucket-carrying narrator, it’s ultimately disappointing.”

Other actors worry that studios will use AI to replicate their voices while keeping them out of the process. “We’ve seen this happen — there are websites popping up databases of voices from characters in video games and animation,” said Linsay Rousseau, an actress who does voiceover work for a living.

Actors in front of the camera point out that studios have used motion capture or performance capture to replicate an artist’s movements or facial expressions. 2018 blockbuster “black panther’ relied on the technique to depict scenes of hundreds of tribal people on cliffs, mimicking the movements of dancers hired to perform for the film.

Some actors worry that newer versions of the technology will allow studios to effectively steal their moves, “create new performances in the style of a martial arts master or karate master, and use that person’s style without their consent,” the voiceover said. And screen actor Zeke Alton says he sits on the board of SAG-AFTRA, a local union in Los Angeles.

As ChatGPT has become adept at imitating the styles of prolific writers, Hollywood writers have become increasingly anxious.

“Early on in our conversations with the guild, we talked about what I call the Nora Efron issue,” said John August, a member of the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee. “It’s basically: what would happen if you fed all of Nora Ephron’s scripts into a system and generated an AI that could create Nora Ephron’s pronunciation scripts?”

Mr August, who wrote films such as Charlie’s Angels and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, said that while artificial intelligence had taken a back seat in the Writers Guild talks, the union was making two key demands on the issue of automation.

It wants to ensure that chatbots cannot write or rewrite any literary material — screenplays, treatments, outlines or even discrete scenes. “A bad situation is, ‘Oh, I read through your script and I don’t like this scene, so I let ChatGPT rewrite this scene’ — that’s the nightmarish scenario,” Mr August said.

The association also wants to ensure that studios cannot use chatbots to generate source material adapted by humans for the screen, in the same way they adapt novels or magazine stories.

The actors’ union SAG-AFTRA says more and more members are signing contracts for individual work in which studios appear to claim the right to use their voices for new performances.

A recent Netflix contract seeks to grant the company free access to simulations of actors’ voices “perpetually throughout the universe, through all technologies and processes now known or later developed.”

Netflix says the language has been around for several years and allows the company to make one actor’s voice sound more like another’s when there are casting changes between seasons of an animated production.

Union has means its members is not bound by contractual clauses that allow producers to simulate new performances without compensating actors, though it sometimes intervenes to remove them from contracts.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, executive director of SAG-AFTRA, said such contracts posed a greater risk for non-union players who could unknowingly be accomplices to their own obsolescence. “It only takes one or a few times in your lifetime to sign off on your rights to really have a potentially negative impact on your career prospects,” Mr Crabtree-Ireland said.

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

When professionals fend off obsolescence at the hands of technology, the results often reflect the status and prestige of their profession.

To some extent, this seems to be the case for aircraft pilots, with crew sizes down to two for most domestic commercial flights by the late 1990s, but has remained roughly flat since then, even as automation has become more sophisticated and the industry has explored further reduce.

“When you’re high off the ground, the safety net you have — the safety net that keeps you from hitting the ground — is two well-trained, experienced, well-rested pilots,” said Dennis A. Capt. Tajir said, representing the American Airlines pilot. Today, a flight time of more than nine hours requires at least three pilots.

Some experts predicted that some doctors would soon be replaced by artificial intelligence in fields such as radiology, but it also failed to materialize.This is partly because limit technology, and because of their status, physicians insert themselves into high-stakes conversations about the safety and deployment of AI. The American College of Radiology has created a Data Science Institute partly for this purpose years ago.

Whether screenwriters will achieve similar success depends at least in part on whether there are inherent limitations in the machines that claim to do their work. Some writers and actors have spoken of the so-called uncanny valley, from which algorithms may never fully escape.

“The artist looks at everything that has ever been created and finds something new to shine,” said Javier Grillo-Marquez, writer and producer of Lost and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. “What the machine is doing is reorganizing.”

No matter how sophisticated the algorithm, the fate of writers and actors will also depend on how they protect their status. How good are they at convincing the audience that they should care if someone is involved?

Unions are holding them accountable. Mr August said it was up to the Writers Guild, not the studio, to decide who was honored as a writer on a project, and that the union would be careful to uphold the ceremony. “We want to make sure that AI is never one of the authors in the title chain of a project,” he said.

Mr Crabtree-Ireland of SAG-AFTRA said unions also had legal cards to play, as did the US Copyright Office statement March Content created entirely by algorithms is not eligible for copyright protection. It is even more difficult to monetize a product if there are no legal barriers to copying it.

Perhaps even more important, he said, is what you might call the Us Weekly factor — that audiences tend to be interested in the people behind the characters and in the performances. Fans want to hear Hollywood luminaries discuss their methods in interviews. They want to stare at the fashion sensibilities of the actors and keep up with whoever they’re dating.

“If you look at culture in general, audiences are usually interested in how our members really live,” Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said. “AI cannot replace key elements of it.”

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