In Hollywood writers’ battle against AI, humans win (for now)

September 29, 2023 10:54 am

[Source: AP]

After a 148-day strike, Hollywood screenwriters secured significant guardrails against the use of artificial intelligence in one of the first major labor battles over generative AI in the workplace.

During the nearly five-month walkout, no issue resonated more than the use of AI in script writing. What was once a seemingly lesser demand of the Writers Guild of America became an existential rallying cry.

The strike was also about streaming-era economics, writers room minimums and residuals — not exactly compelling picket-sign fodder. But the threat of AI vividly cast the writers’ plight as a human-versus-machine clash, with widespread implications for other industries facing a radically new kind of automation.

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In the coming weeks, WGA members will vote on whether to ratify a tentative agreement, which requires studios and production companies to disclose to writers if any material given to them has been generated by AI partially or in full. AI cannot be a credited writer. AI cannot write or rewrite “literary material.” AI-generated writing cannot be source material.

“AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights,” the proposed contract reads.

Many experts see the screenwriters’ deal as a forerunner for labor battles to come.

“I hope it will be a model for a lot of other content-creation industries,” said Tom Davenport, a professor of information technology at Babson College and author of “ All-in on AI: How Smart Companies Win Big with Artificial Intelligence.” “It pretty much insures that if you’re going to use AI, it’s going to be humans working alongside AI. That, to me, has always been the best way to use any form of AI.”

The tentative agreement between the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, doesn’t prohibit all uses of artificial intelligence. Both sides have acknowledged it can be a worthwhile tool in many aspects of filmmaking, including script writing.

The deal states that writers can use AI if the company consents. But a company cannot require a writer to use AI software.

Language over AI became a sticking point in the writers’ negotiations, which dragged on last week in part due to the challenges of bargaining on such a fast-evolving technology.

When the writers strike began on May 2, it was just five months after OpenAI released ChatGPT, the AI chatbot that can write essays, have sophisticated conversations and craft stories from a handful of prompts. Studios said it was it too early to tackle AI in these negotiations and preferred to wait until 2026.

Ultimately, they hashed out terms while noting that the outlook is certain to change. Under the draft contract, “the parties acknowledge that the legal landscape around the use of (generative AI) is uncertain and rapidly developing.” The companies and the guild agreed to meet at least twice a year during the contract’s three-year term.