The recent Hollywood strikes have brought to light an emerging issue facing the entertainment industry: the rise of generative AI. Both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike from May to September 2023 and the ongoing Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike centered concerns over AI potentially replacing human jobs and creative work.
As studios explore AI tools to cut costs and boost efficiency, writers and actors fear for their livelihoods if left unregulated. Their calls for responsible AI practices sparked necessary debates that will influence entertainment and beyond.
This discourse sets a crucial precedent for future corporate engagement with AI, providing lessons on both the potential and pitfalls of AI employment. But how did this unfold, and what were the outcomes?
Why AI Drove the Strikes
Generative AI refers to technology that can produce original content like text, images, audio, and video based on patterns in data. Tools like ChatGPT and DALL-E 2 can generate scripts, articles, art, and more from simple prompts. Studios want to use these AI capabilities to ideate stories faster and reduce expenses.
However, writers and actors worry AI will diminish opportunities for human creatives. The WGA fought for AI not receiving writing credits or full script authorship over people. SAG-AFTRA demanded consent and compensation for replicating performances digitally. Without oversight, AI could create content using existing films and shows without hiring or paying the humans who made that data.
The studios' initial proposals allowed uncontrolled AI use, prompting backlash. Writers refused AI potentially undermining pay and authorship. Actors rejected lifetime likeness rights without approval or payment. The unions unified to demand ethical parameters around AI in entertainment.
Generative AI: A Double-Edged Sword for Creatives
Generative AI has made its presence felt across industries, offering the potential to boost productivity and innovation. However, for creatives, it also poses a threat of replacement. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in Hollywood initiated several strikes in 2023 to ensure that their livelihoods would not be compromised by AI.
The unions recognized the inevitability of AI in the industry. Their goal was not to banish it from the film industry entirely. Instead, they sought a compromise, a guarantee that human-generated content would still hold more value than that produced by AI.
This balance could only be achieved with a push for AI regulation and contractual changes. By November 2023, both strikes had officially ended or reached tentative agreements.
AI: The Catalyst of the Strikes
The motivations behind the WGA and SAG strikes were similar. Surveys showed that around 80% of workplaces wanted to employ a generative AI tool for their teams, but fewer had established governance for these resources. This discrepancy led Hollywood’s unions to voice their concerns. For writers, the issue was AI developing scripts and devaluing human-written work. For actors, it was about the use of AI to regenerate their likeness without hiring them or having them on set.
The Strikes: A Closer Look
The WGA strike, which represented 11,500 screenwriters, lasted from May 2 to September 27, 2023. The SAG-AFTRA strike, representing the American actors' union, spanned from July 14 to November 9, 2023. These strikes resulted in significant job losses and economic impact, with an estimated $6.5 billion loss to the economy of Southern California.
The strikes were not just about paychecks. They were also about the ethical use of AI in the industry. The actors and writers wanted clear guidelines around the use of AI in film and television productions.
Key Deal Points on AI Reached
After months of tense negotiations, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes resulted in landmark concessions regarding AI:
- AI cannot receive writing credits or author full scripts
- Writers choose whether to use AI tools
- Companies must disclose if material provided incorporates AI
- AI content cannot qualify as source material for adaptations
- Consent and compensation for AI replications
- Notification when AI involves likeness rights
- Protections cover background performers
These precedent-setting regulations aim to prevent AI from fully replacing human jobs. The rules allow experimentation while upholding creative roles and IP rights.
Why Do These AI Rules Matter?
The WGA and SAG-AFTRA deals set influential terms for AI practices in entertainment and content creation at large. Key takeaways include:
Humans Maintain Control
The regulations prevent AI from making unilateral decisions about greenlighting or authoring films/shows. Creative roles stay empowered to oversee AI collaboration on projects.
AI Supports Rather Than Replaces
With AI unable to replace writing credits or performances without consent, its position becomes more supplemental. AI can assist where advantageous but avoids superseding human imagination and skill.
By covering background actors and requiring disclosure, notification, and compensation involving AI, the deals aim to protect creatives from AI systems trained on existing work without permission or payment.
Inspires Responsible AI Adoption
The entertainment industry deals demonstrate how to integrate AI ethically across sectors where technology intersects with creative pursuits and labor forces.
The Aftermath: A New Era for Hollywood
The strikes ended with the ratification of new contracts that included increased pay, health and pension contributions, new foreign streaming residuals, viewership-based streaming bonuses, and assurances against AI. The agreement marked a significant victory for human creativity over AI, at least for the time being.
What Comes Next?
The landmark WGA and SAG-AFTRA agreements on AI are first steps in an evolving landscape. As generative AI advances, its capabilities to transform industries will spur more debates over job impacts and responsible practices. Entertainment served as an influential case study for regulating technology to avoid exploitation and workforce disruption.
Other sectors will likely follow Hollywood’s lead in hashing out AI parameters respectful of both human imagination and innovation. There are still details left to define, but the entertainment industry struck a groundbreaking compromise that prevents AI from fully replacing human creativity while allowing for progress.