In an unexpected unity, actors and writers stood side by side on the picket line this past July. Marking their first joint strike in over six decades, the two guilds found a shared concern that neither could ignore: the looming intrusion of artificial intelligence (AI) into their professions.
"The studios are not unfamiliar with how Silicon Valley can create a technology that suddenly and dramatically changes their business," observes Dawn Chmielewski, a US entertainment business correspondent at Reuters. She explains that beyond cost considerations, the studios are recognizing the potential AI offers in keeping pace with technological evolution—a trait that the industry has learned to value from Silicon Valley.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) sounded the alarm, highlighting the possibility of generative AI—a technology that can craft text, images, and videos with human-like skill. "All of the studios see the opportunity," Chmielewski adds. "Obviously, cost is a consideration, but also keeping abreast of the pace of technological change."
The WGA warns that the integration of AI-generated content could allow studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), to sidestep the hiring of human writers altogether, leading to substantial cost-cutting. "The studios certainly see an imperative to embrace [AI] or risk obsolescence," Chmielewski notes.
A parallel concern comes from the Screen Actors Guild (Sag-Aftra), particularly regarding the manipulation of digital likenesses. Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the guild's chief negotiator, raised an unsettling proposal that studios would pay background actors a one-time fee for eternal use of their images. While the AMPTP denies such a proposition, the implication of AI-driven visual replication remains a hot topic.
This recent influx of AI hiring is not solely tethered to AI-generated content or digital facsimiles of actors. Rather, it signifies a larger competition to bolster machine learning capabilities. "The studios are not unfamiliar with how Silicon Valley can create a technology that suddenly and dramatically changes their business," Chmielewski observes.
In a recent hiring spree, Netflix advertised a position for an AI product manager with an annual salary ranging from $300,000 to $900,000. Meanwhile, Disney boasts a myriad of AI-related job postings within its media and entertainment division. Companies like Amazon and Apple are also actively seeking AI talent, indicating a widespread industry initiative to enhance machine learning capabilities across the board.
Experts suggest that the growth in AI hiring isn't limited to entertainment. Across the US, companies are filling leadership roles in AI with a goal to stay ahead of the curve or risk falling behind. "We are all going to be touched by this technology," Chmielewski states. "And the studios certainly see an imperative to embrace it or risk obsolescence."
This AI hiring boom has spurred a broader debate about the inevitability of AI's influence. "AI is being touted as an efficiency improver. It's worthwhile to think about the ultimate result of that efficiency," explains Ben Zhao, a professor of computer science at the University of Chicago. This sentiment aligns with Disney's comprehensive effort to incorporate AI into its operations, from new technology to creative progression.
However, as AI technology advances, it also raises concerns about the potential loss of human jobs. The fears held by writers and actors regarding AI's role in creative industries are valid, as AI's capacity to generate content improves. The Writers Guild's concern over AI-generated content not receiving proper credit or compensation underscores these anxieties.
It's true that AI is making inroads into entertainment, from creating visual effects and dubbing foreign shows to generating digital likenesses and even entire movies. While the doomsday scenario of complete AI-replacement remains distant, researchers believe it's plausible within the next decade.
As the entertainment industry evolves, the balance between AI's capabilities and the preservation of human craftsmanship is delicate. The negotiations between guilds and studios, along with the industry-wide AI hiring spree, paint a picture of an evolving landscape where human creativity and artificial intelligence intersect, raising important questions about the future of entertainment and the roles of actors and writers in this new era.