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Navigating the Rise of AI: Finding a Path Forward for Workers and Studios

The rapid emergence of artificial intelligence just as union contracts were coming up for renewal has made addressing the use of AI in television and film-making a priority. As AI capabilities advance, the entertainment industry faces a crossroads: will this technology be handled responsibly to benefit creators, or exploited thoughtlessly to their detriment?

A group of SAG-AFTRA members on strike holding up signs

The WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes have brought these tensions to the forefront. While not fundamentally opposed to AI, the unions are pushing back on unfettered adoption of AI that threatens members' livelihoods. Meanwhile, studios have largely stonewalled without offering a constructive vision for integrating AI into filmmaking in a responsible manner that protects writers, actors, and production crews.


Navigating this will require nuanced dialog and cooperation from both sides of the disagreement. Knee-jerk reactions against innovation won’t serve writers or actors long-term. But racing headlong into AI without considering consequences could devastate careers. The solution lies in collaborative governance to shape the use of emerging technologies responsibly.


At the core of the concern over the introduction of AI into the creative process lies a conflict between the lack of and need for employee care. Let’s take a look at how the rise of AI in the creative process threatens writers, actors, and crews through the lens of the 9 Principles of Employee Care.


Human Relationships at Stake


For writers, actors and crews, relationships are foundational - collaboration fuels creativity. Introducing AI without input strains bonds built on trust and idea exchange. Lack of transparency around AI plans also undermines the good faith that needs to exist between creatives and studios. Restoring communication and mutual understanding must come first. Otherwise, AI will undermine creativity and human partnerships rather than enhance them.


Human Respect and Worth at Risk


Respect means recognizing each person’s contributions. Dismissing creatives’ concerns over AI or proposing unchecked uses without consent or fair compensation shows callous disregard for their worth and talent. Responsible adoption requires guidelines that ensure AI augments rather than devalues the talents and work of writers and actors.


Human Relevance Challenged


If studios can synthesize an actor’s image and dialog using AI without fair compensation, human relevance diminishes. Ethical policies must be enacted to maintain the centrality of human creativity and imagination as AI technology evolves. AI should be an assistive tool that supports writers and actors rather than generative tool that further erodes their ability to make a living practicing their art.


Human Representation Under Threat


For historically marginalized groups who already struggle for representation both on screen and in writer rooms, AI poses a dual threat. It could further limit their creative opportunities while also exploiting their literal images without consent via unchecked scanning and replication. Protecting human representation must be central in any AI ethics guidelines.


Preserving the Human Element


SAG-AFTRA and the WGA aim to balance innovation with protecting members' interests. But compromise requires engagement - the present impasse stems largely from studios’ opacity on intentions and attitude of ‘let them starve’ – a tactic designed to force concessions from a place of desperation. Complete AI bans may not serve long-term interests of either union and their members, but neither does rapid implementation without collective buy-in and safeguards for the livelihood of writers, actors, and crews.


With new capabilities emerging, studios and creatives must jointly envision an ethical way forward. If studios move beyond stonewalling to share constructive visions for AI, creatives can help shape its introduction as a tool, rather than a threat. But continued secrecy and stonewalling risks irreparable damage to relationships already strained by streaming upheavals.


The Way Forward


A responsible path forward exists, but it requires collaborative and considered action grounded in the 9 Principles of Employee Care. Guidelines should demand consent and fair compensation for use of likenesses as well as proper attribution and IP protections. Applications of AI and other technological advancements must be transparent and governed democratically, with creators at the table.


There is tremendous opportunity for AI in entertainment if responsibly implemented - it could aid effects, streamline workflows, enhance accessibility, and open creative possibilities. But this cannot come at the cost of equity and shared prosperity for the creatives who fuel the magic of Hollywood. If studios work cooperatively with unions to ensure humanity of writers, actors, and crews stays centered, AI may be able to propel innovation while protecting careers. But if human considerations and the jobs of writers, actors, and crews are sacrificed for efficiency, runaway technology risks devastating lives and communities.


By approaching AI with care, consideration, and compassion, rather than seeing it solely as a tool for optimization, Hollywood can integrate it constructively. But unions for the writers, actors, and crew must have a seat at the table, shaping AI through a lens of human dignity.


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