Hollywood Writers Deal Hints At Future Path For AI

Hollywood Writers Deal Hints At Future Path For AI

AI may not be coming for your job after all. It might even be here to make your life easier.

The sudden acceleration in the capabilities of generative AI caught the world unawares, and now content creators and publishers as well as lawyers and policymakers are scrambling to understand the implications of a technology that can deliver high-quality work in a fraction of the time that its human counterparts could manage.

Fortunately, copyright law appears to be on the side of the creators, not publishers or tech companies. The dystopian future that so many have warned about, of the machines taking over and mass unemployment, may remain in the realms of fiction – and importantly, those fiction stories may be written by authors who leverage AI to help them research and produce their material more quickly, easily, and accurately than they would ever be able to do on their own.

AI And Creative Jobs

Imagine the scenario. You’re a writer, working as part of a team on the scripts for different TV shows. It’s a decent living, a little unpredictable at times, but it’s fun and creative, and you’re good at it and you enjoy it.

Then right around the beginning of 2024, work starts to dry up. That’s weird, because there are just as many TV shows coming out, and there aren’t many people who could write these scripts as well as you can.

You’re offered a higher proportion of editing work, though. It’s not as well paid, and there’s less of it overall, but you take it. Whoever is writing the scripts is perfectly competent. The thing is, you can’t help but think a lot of this stuff is… how do you put it? Derivative? Not quite. Cookie-cutter? Sort of. It lacks some creative spark, for want of a better term. Your job is to rewrite these scripts and inject some zing.

It’s not long before you discover the reason for your change of role, and status. The new writers aren’t human at all. They’re AI programmes that have been trained on the vast corpus of TV scripts already available (including your own work), and that are churning out ‘new’ material on-demand.

This sounds like science fiction – and it is. Roald Dahl’s 1954 short story, ‘The Great Automatic Grammatizator’, deals with an uncannily similar scenario, 70 years before ChatGPT. Reasoning that grammar follows logical rules, a young man builds a machine that, with limited human input, can compose high-quality novels in just minutes – ultimately putting most human writers out of business. But today, what once seemed impossible is a reality.

Writers Strike A Deal

This scenario was one of the reasons behind the recent Hollywood writers strike, which lasted five months. A tentative deal to end the strike included terms specifying that Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) could not be used to write or rewrite literary material, or to generate new source material.

Interestingly, the agreement does not prevent writers themselves from using generative AI (including ChatGPT), so long as the production company permits this. Moreover, companies cannot demand that writers use GAI.

Humans Are Still Special

A series of recent cases and developments are starting to show the path for the way that AI might be involved in creative processes.

The Hollywood writers’ deal states that ‘The Companies agree that because neither traditional AI nor GAI is a person, neither is a ‘writer’ or ‘professional writer’... and, therefore, written material produced by traditional AI or GAI shall not be considered literary material under this or any prior MBA.’

This principle is already recognised in law. Copyright is only ever given to works created by humans, and several recent cases have denied copyright to AI-generated images. That has implications for studios that create works with AI, which may subsequently be copied without the studios having legal protections.

Moreover, there are high-profile legal cases underway against OpenAI and other AI companies, which have been accused of training their Large Language Models (LLMs) using copyrighted text. The Authors Guild and a number of celebrated authors including John Grisham, George R.R. Martin and Jodi Picoult have filed a lawsuit on the grounds that OpenAI copied their works without permission or compensation.

Who Controls The Means Of Production?

There are broadly two possible paths for how generative AI could be used in the future, and who it will most benefit.

  • Scenario 1: Studios and large corporations use AI to create content based on existing works. Production companies/publishers, and their shareholders, profit enormously from the ability to create new content essentially for free, cutting out writers and animators, while there is little role for original content creators.
  • Scenario 2: AI becomes a tool that enables content creators to produce higher-quality work more quickly. They are paid more for their time, and publishers reap the benefits of the increase in productivity.

The first possibility was the one writers were striking over. Fortunately, the second scenario appears to be the one that is now emerging. It should hold true across the spectrum of content generation: written works, art, video, even code.

The trajectory therefore seems to be towards a future in which AI could benefit the economy as a whole, rather than only the already super-wealthy minority. Skilled professionals will be able to use AI to increase their productivity and earn more, while working fewer hours. This should be a source of reassurance for content creators, especially since OpenAI has just unveiled powerful new functionality for ChatGPT. AI in this scenario is their ally, not competition.

Freelance platforms like LaborX will also be likely beneficiaries of this trend, as experts seek new work opportunities to leverage their newly-found productivity, regardless of where they are based in the world, and companies cast their nets wider for talent to stay ahead in an increasingly global and competitive landscape.