In the must watch In the final season of “Succession,” Kendall Roy enters a conference room with his siblings. As the scene begins, he sits down and explains: “Who will be the successor? Me.”
Sure, that scene didn’t appear on HBO’s hit show, but it’s a good illustration of the level of sophistication of generative AI compared to the real thing. But while the Writers Guild of America strikes to pursue livable working conditions and better streaming residuals, the networks won’t budge on writers’ demands to regulate the use of AI in writers’ rooms.
“Our proposal is that we are not obligated to adapt anything produced by AI, and that the output of an AI is not considered the work of writers,” comic writer Adam Conover told BlogRanking. “That doesn’t completely exclude that technology from the production process, but it does mean that our working conditions are not undermined by AI.”
But the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) declined to accept that proposal, instead offering an annual meeting to discuss “advancements in technology.”
“When we first set up [the proposal] in, we thought we covered our bases — you know, some of our members are concerned about this, the area is moving fast, we should be ahead of it,” Conover said. “We didn’t think it would be a controversial issue because the fact is that the current state of text generation technology is totally incapable of writing any work that could be used in a production.”
The text-generating algorithms behind tools like ChatGPT are not built to entertain us. Instead, they analyze patterns in huge data sets to respond to requests by determining what is likely to be the desired output. So ChatGPT knows that “Succession” is about the children of an aging media mogul fighting for control of his company, but it’s unlikely that there will be a dialogue more nuanced than “Who will be the successor?” Me.”
According to Ben Zhao, a professor at the University of Chicago and faculty leader of Glaze, the anti-impersonation tool for art, AI advancements could be used as an excuse for companies to devalue human labor.
“It’s to the benefit of the studios and larger companies to essentially over-claim ChatGPT’s capabilities so that, at least in negotiations, they can undercut and minimize the role of human creatives,” Zhao told BlogRanking. “I’m not sure how many people at these larger companies actually believe what they say.”
Conover emphasized that some parts of a writer’s job are less obvious than literally writing scripts, but are equally difficult to replicate with AI.
“It goes to a meeting with the decoration department saying, ‘Hey, we can’t actually build this prop you’re imagining, could you do this instead?’ and then you talk to them and you go back and rewrite,” he said. “This is a human endeavor that involves collaborating with other humans, and that simply can’t be done by an AI.”
Comedian Yedoye Travis sees how AI can be useful in a writer’s room.
“What we do in writers’ rooms is ultimately bounce ideas around,” he told BlogRanking. “Even if it’s not good on its own, an AI can put together a script in so many minutes, compared to a week for human writers, and then it’s easier to edit than to write.”
But even if there’s some promise for how people can use this technology, he worries studios see it as just a way to demand more from writers in a shorter period of time.
“It tells me they’re only concerned with things that get made,” Travis said. “They don’t care about people getting paid for things that get made.”
Writers are also arguing for regulating the use of AI in entertainment, as it remains a legal gray area.
“It’s not clear if the work it’s doing is copyrighted, and a movie studio isn’t going to spend $50 to $100 million shooting a script they don’t know they own the copyright to,” Conover said. “So we thought this would be an easy gift [the AMPTP]but they completely blocked it.
As the Writers Guild of America strikes for the first time since its historic 100-day campaign in 2007, Conover said he thinks the debate over AI technology is a “red herring.” Now that generative AI is at such a rudimentary stage, writers are more directly concerned about dismal streaming residues and understaffed writing teams. But studios pushing back on the union’s AI-related requests only exacerbates the core problem: The people who power Hollywood aren’t getting paid their fair share.
“I’m not worried about the technology,” Conover said. “I worry about the companies using technology, which is actually not very good, to undermine our working conditions.”