This is part of a series of candid accounts of the Hollywood writers’ strike at various levels in their careers. The diarists have been given anonymity to encourage candor. You can read previous contributions by ‘Eastside stirrerand others here.
Week three. Bull horns. whistles. Personal speaker systems. We’re starting to get the hang of this strike thing. Someone had installed a freight train horn on his car and started circling Disney. When you drag anxious, vitamin D-poor introverts away from their MacBooks and expose them to real sunlight, catharsis happens.
Maybe it’s the tread falling off our discounted tennis shoe. Maybe it’s the light touch of heatstroke. Perhaps it’s the constant tsunami of people overwhelming Paramount. (Friday was Trek day, and all the Starfleet uniforms on display made it look like redshirt revenge.) Whatever it is, there’s definitely something liberating about being a sign-waving madman.
Listen, we have our backs against the wall and we know it. Even the (many) looted donut boxes on the picket line have “Fuck AI” written on them. We’re the first to look down on our rising AI Overlords, but we won’t be the last.* Let’s talk about the Killer Robot Elephant in the room.
After all, we are writers. All many of us do is think of all the possible ways the world could explode.You’ve seen Valve 2 – some of you have even seen it by accident Terminator: Genisys – but our job is to come up with Terminators 10 through 20. We know how this story ends.
And we know when it begins: when the AI Lords of Creation descend upon Capitol Hill. But honestly, it was mostly disturbing to watch OpenAI’s Sam Altman gives in to Congress this week even he doesn’t understand what new hell he’s wrought. That AI may need limits. No fuss.
However, it felt a little damn disingenuous because there was at least one boundary that OpenAI didn’t care about: US copyright law. They blew right past it when they put all our work in their industrial bullshit machine without our permission. Of course they talk all day about an International AI Monitoring Agency (a very good idea), but they suddenly become very defensive when someone says maybe pay people for what Real powers GPT4.
See, while Altman charmed the Senate, his tight-suited lawyers did the real bloodwork at the House Committee on Copyright: wide-eyed and innocently acting “Fair Use” whispering like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. But what about license an artist’s work or ask permission before you suck their soul into a digital can that charges people $20 a month to play along?
They just blinked and whined, ‘But that’s too hard! We stole one lot of stuff.” Fortunately, there were also music people. Real composers and songwriters and musicians. They weren’t having a good time. They’ve been through Napster. They know how much Silicon Valley likes to steal from artists. And this time they invented something that can actually steal your voice. Who knew Ursula the Sea Witch had powered up a Y-Combinator?
However, the real power play was during the US Copyright Office’s AI listening sessions. The exactly the same Robo lobbyists were there. Fun fact: Top Silicon Valley VC firm Andreesen Horowitz hired the former General Counsel of the Copyright Office to clean up their nonsense.
Funny how legalization works.
Fortunately, the WGA was there too. Fight back with the help of John August. Offering the new idea that maybe copyright should protect the real human being authors.** The DGA, on the other hand, looked woefully unprepared, as did the Boston Dynamics dog their homework. Also, the cameraman who spoke randomly knew the most about how AI technology really works. Typically Hollywood. (It was to be expected that a pseudo-controversy would ensue later because some tech investor tricked August into backing an AI product in the pre-ChatGPT days. But anyone who saw John talk to the Copyright office , has no doubt whose side he is on.)
So when the studios say they don’t even want to talk about AI because it’s “too early,” they are either clueless or being sinister. This time, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that AMPTP is just clueless. Let’s assume they don’t know what training weights or back propulsion or gradient descent are. Let’s assume Bob Iger doesn’t realize it OpenAI took massive amounts of pirated content, imprisoned Mickey Mouse in a digital prison, made him dance the way they wanted, and started asking people to do the same.
Well, you better educate yourself. Now. Because the Writers have. So maybe talk to us. Perhaps you recognize the legitimate and progressive concerns of your so-called artistic partners – who you literally pay to think about that future. Maybe admit that we have a right to exist and work. Perhaps remember that our partnership, and the promise to protect it, is worth more than the mirage of crazy gold that every AI hype man and scammer will sell you while stealing from your (and our) back pockets.
Maybe then this strike can really end.
Because if the studios think that the Silicon Valley megacorps cares in the slightest about their interests, if they think they’re the ones who will come out on top, think again. Legacy media is a rounding error in Silicon Valley’s kajillion dollar ambitions. They don’t even have to buy you out – they’re already absorbed all your and our “content” for free. The film and television business is about to go Napsterfied. As Billy Ray put it last week: it’s all just data to them. Then you guys are at the picket lines, but by then it’s too late.
*Seriously, Goldman Sachs just released a report saying AI could be disappearing 1 in 11 jobs worldwide.
** But the real star? Alex Kox. Not surprisingly, the man who gave us Sid and Nancy went off on the Robo Lobbyists. (Don’t steal from me and call it innovation!)