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This is part of a series of frank accounts of the strike from Hollywood writers at different levels in their careers. The diarists have been granted anonymity to encourage candor. You can read previous entries by ‘Eastside Warrior’ and others here.
Week Three. Bull horns. Whistles. Personal speaker systems. We’re starting to get the hang of this strike thing. Someone had a freight train horn installed on his car and started circling Disney. When you drag anxious, Vitamin-D deprived introverts away from their MacBooks and expose them to actual sunlight, catharsis happens.
Maybe it’s the tread falling off our discount tennis shoe. Maybe it’s the light touch of sun stroke. Maybe it’s the constant tsunami of people overwhelming Paramount. (Friday was Trek day, and all the Starfleet uniforms on display made it look like revenge of the Red Shirts.) Whatever it is, there’s definitely something liberating about being a crazy person waving a sign.
Listen, our backs are against the wall, and we know it. Even the (many) ransacked donut boxes on the picket line have “Fuck AI” written on them. We’re the first to stare down our rising AI Overlords, but we won’t be the last.* So, let’s talk about the Killer Robot Elephant in the room.
Because, after all, we are writers. All many of us do is think of every possible way the world could explode.You’ve seen Terminator 2 – some of you have even accidentally seen Terminator: Genisys – but our job is to think of Terminators 10 through 20. We know how this story ends.
And we know when it starts: when the AI Lords of Creation descend on Capitol Hill. Though to be honest, it was especially disturbing to see OpenAI’s Sam Altman admit to Congress this week even he doesn’t understand what new hell he has wrought. That maybe AI needs boundaries. No shit.
However, it felt a little fucking disingenuous because there was at least one boundary OpenAI could care less about: U.S. Copyright law. They blew right past that one when they hoovered up all our work into their industrial strength bullshit machine without our consent. Sure, they’ll talk all day about an International AI Monitoring Agency (a very good idea), but they suddenly get really defensive when someone mentions maybe paying people for what really powers GPT4.
See, while Altman was charming the Senate, his slicked-suited lawyers were doing the real blood work at the House committee on Copyright: acting all wide-eyed and innocent whispering “Fair Use” like a kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar. But what about actually licensing artist’s work or asking permission before you suck their souls into a digital soup can that you charge people $20 a month to play with?
They just blinked and whined, “But that’s too hard! We stole a lot of stuff.” Fortunately, there were music folks there, too. Actual composers and songwriters and musicians. They weren’t having it. They’ve lived through Napster. They know how much Silicon Valley likes to steal from artists. And this time around, they’ve invented something that can actually steal your voice. Who knew Ursula the Sea Witch had a Y-Combinator start up?
However, the true power play was at the U.S. Copyright Office’s AI listening sessions. The exact same Robo Lobbyists were there. Fun fact: top Silicon Valley VC firm Andreesen Horowitz actually hired the former General Counsel of the Copyright Office to shovel their horseshit.
Funny how regulatory capture works.
Fortunately, the WGA was also there, too. Fighting back with the help of John August. Offering the novel idea that Copyright should maybe protect actual human authors.** The DGA, on the other hand, looked woefully unprepared, like the Boston Dynamics dog ate their homework. Also, randomly, the cinematographer who spoke knew the most about how AI technology actually works. Typical Hollywood. (Predictably, a pseudo-controversy sprung up later because some tech investor had lured August into endorsing an AI-product in the pre-ChatGPT days. But anyone who watched John talk to the Copyright office has no doubt whose side he’s on.)
So, when the studios say that they don’t even want to talk about AI because it’s “too soon,” they’re either clueless or sinister. Just this once, for arguments’ sake, let’s assume AMPTP is simply clueless. Let’s assume they don’t know what training weights or back propagation or gradient descent are. Let’s assume Bob Iger doesn’t realize OpenAI ingested massive amounts of pirated content, trapped Mickey Mouse in a digital prison, made him dance however they wanted, and started charging people to do the same.
Well, you better educate yourself. Now. Because the Writers have. So, maybe talk to us. Maybe acknowledge the legitimate and forward-thinking 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. Maybe consider that our partnership, and promising to protect it, is worth more than the mirage of fool’s gold that every AI hype-man and con-artist will sell you while stealing from your (and our) back pockets.
Maybe then, this strike could actually fucking end.
Because if the studios think the Silicon Valley mega-corps care one whit 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 won’t even have to buy you out – they already absorbed all your and our “content” for free. The film and television business is on the verge of being Napsterfied. As Billy Ray put it last week, it’s all just data to them. Then, you’ll be the ones on the picket lines – but by then it will be too late.
*Seriously, Goldman Sachs just put out a report saying AI could wipe out 1 in 11 jobs worldwide.
** But the real star? Alex Cox. Not surprisingly, the guy who gave us Sid and Nancy went off on the Robo Lobbyists. (Don’t steal from me and call it innovation!)
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