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Why American writers are on strike in front of Netflix

Film scripts can easily be written by AI instead of screenwriters, producers at some of the major media and streaming platforms believe (photo: CC0 Public Domain)

On Wednesday, May 4, hundreds of members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) gathered in front of Netflix’s headquarters in New York. They were there to scream: writers refuse to be replaced by AI.

Placards flew in the air with slogans such as “Don’t let ChatGPT write Yellowstone” and “Don’t turn creativity into Uber.” These signs referred to the unprecedented rise of artificial intelligence. The writers – mostly screenwriters – have demanded that the use of AI be regulated through union projects, but the push has been met with a flat refusal from the media studios.

What do the writing brothers want?

Many of them are movie writers and get paid per episode on streaming platforms. What they fear is the devaluation of their work, which is emerging because of the use of AI programs to generate text and write dialogues.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents a number of major entertainment companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Disney, responded to the guild that instead of banning the use of AI, studios would be prepared to hold annual meetings to discuss “advances in technology”.

It was this answer that caused the Writers Guild to worry. It was he who took them out into the street. From what the studios said, it was clear that media executives are more than willing to try to replace writers with AI.

“We basically sat down at the table and said, ‘scripts are written by writers, and writers are people.’ But they responded with the dystopian proposition, ‘Well, what if they’re not human?'” says Josh Gondelman, a TV comedy writer and WGA member.

Instead of starting a discussion about how artificial intelligence can be integrated into the industry and what protections should be put in place for writers, the backlash from the media business has scorched creators. “They just told us, ‘once a year we’ll let you know how many of you we’ve replaced with machines,'” Gondelman fumes.

Fair regulation

Many of the striking writers are adamant that their position is not against artificial intelligence in general. They just want regulation to support working people.

“Technology changes very quickly. The authors are aware of this. We know that AI is something important and will probably be a tool that will be used in the future. All we want to do is make sure the balance is fairly regulated,” explains Sasha Stewart, TV writer and comedian. “We want to make sure that, at the end of the day, the script was written by a human being.”

“Creators – writers, screenwriters, and everyone else – are a reflection of the state of society,” says Ahmadu Garba, film and television scriptwriter. “This is why we can’t accept some new technology that we don’t fully understand yet to replace us. Technology cannot be a reflection of society.”

The union that brought the writers to the streets also has a contract proposal that is ready and embraces the changes forced by the rise of AI. Creators know that if the limits of AI are not defined now, the technology will continue to evolve rapidly and, once in the hands of studio executives, will test the scope and quality of writers’ work.

It’s a problem that goes far beyond the world of Hollywood and television writers. Companies that build AI are positioning their developments as tools that can automate work in all fields of activity, and this can directly put people out of work.

“If we don’t come to an agreement now, AI technology will advance so quickly that it will no longer be possible to negotiate a fair contract in the context of AI – even in just three years,” commented Liz Hynes, writer and television series writer. “We have to do it now or never.”

What AI takes away

The multimedia business seems to see things differently. Many studio executives are already vocal about their desire to use AI to generate scripts and concepts for shows and movies.

“Will there be a script written by AI in a year? Yes,” affirms Todd Lieberman, film and television producer. His colleague Rob Wade, head of Fox’s entertainment business, adds that AI will not only be used for scripts, but also for editing.

This attitude is insulting to creators. “When the vice presidents of global streaming companies say, ‘I don’t believe in quality,’ then maybe it doesn’t matter that AI can’t do something as smart or as creative as a human,” said Greg Ivinsky, a comedy writer and member of the negotiating committee with AMPTP. Negotiations seem to be stalling.

The decision by movie studios to harness AI instead of humans in scriptwriting “takes away the heart and soul of what writing is about,” says Alex Zaragoza, a television writer and former journalist. “It also takes away food from our mouths, it takes away the ability to give a good education [на децата си]to pay rent, to live a life where there is an opportunity for development’.

A battle for all endangered professions

The writers’ protests in New York are far from us, but this battle over AI regulation is something that will set a precedent for a number of industries and influence lawmaking in many countries around the world. The outcome of the negotiations will be significant for all professions threatened by artificial intelligence: artists and animators, photographers, actors and stuntmen, journalists, video editors. All of them see their skills now being overshadowed by AI duplicates and entirely new works created by AI.

“We hope it will be a landmark decision not only for our movement, but for the labor movement as a whole, because we need to figure out how to incorporate AI in a sensible way into people’s contracts so that it enriches our lives and does so in -easy, for our work to be more contested, for us to have more free time, but also for the value of our work and our self-worth to be protected,” Hines says.

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