The Writers-Actors Strike Is Illuminating the Debate on the Role AI Is Having in All Industries, Including the Media

While AI has been replacing lower-skilled jobs in multiple industries, AI is getting its first powerful and organized resistance in the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA actors Hollywood strike, the first time the two unions has come together to strike at the same time since 1960.

The two unions have typical strike demands of better pay and other industry gripes. But what the larger society can benefit from is the attention raised on AI and the ethical debates on how far AI should go in replacing humans in the workplace.

For WGA their concern is over the use of artificial intelligence when it comes to script writing. For SAG-AFTRA, one among other AI concerns is the use of actors (mostly background work) having their likeness scanned and the company has right to use that scan for the rest of eternity without consideration. The actor, then, is paid only for that one day’s work after being scanned. That amounts to a lot of actors not having jobs.

Interestingly, artists and writers have historically had the role of being “the conscious” of society in their creative works from literature, books and film. It seems appropriate that they are the ones to strike the first salvo in what could be the beginning of “Humans War Against the Machines.”

Today, it’s the writers and actors at war with AI. But as AI continues to infiltrate other industries and workers beyond typically lower-skilled jobs, it’s inevitable that the war against machines will spread. As it should, because human capital should never be undervalued and easily replaced.

Certainly, AI could have a place wherein its function improves society. But when AI’s function is only to improve the profit of corporations and to replace workers, there ought to be healthy debate on ethics and scope of AI’s use.

AI and Journalism
Journalists should stand in solidarity with our fellow writers in the WGA because there will come a time when AI’s tentacles have overreaching power in our own industry.

Already AI is impacting journalism in the rise of automated content generation also known as robot journalism. News organizations are increasingly using AI to produce data-driven articles mostly in financial reporting, sports recaps and weather forecasts for now.

As AI improves the potential for strict news writers and journalists assigned to handle simple tasks could be replaced.

It’s unlikely that investigative reporting and journalists tasked with in-depth analysis and critical thinking will be replaced. But before journalists reach this level, how the newsroom usually operates is, they get their start doing newswriting and simpler tasks. So, replacement of entry level jobs with AI impacts our entire industry.

Hollywood actors know how this bottom-to-top process works which is why the stars making millions of dollars are fighting in solidarity with their lower paid actors and donating to the union during this time of austerity.

Media has undergone many transformations since the digital age from the rise of the internet to popularity of social media. It’s clear where the next workplace transformation will be – how AI is used in media.

Ideally, AI in our industry should be used in tasks that improve journalism and save time for journalists to do more complex tasks that better our skills as writers. In such areas, AI is welcomed. The Catch-22, however, is opening the door to technology that could in some ways be opening Pandora’s Box. Technology can improve efficiency. But at what cost? And at what limits? This is the big ethical question of our time.

For now, only a few giant media organizations are reportedly using AI in journalism. Early adopters include the Associated Press, Forbes, ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times. But journalists, especially those that belong to writers’ unions, should be aware of new AI technology and how it’s being used in our industry.

AI shouldn’t become the essential tool in the newsroom transforming the way news is discovered, reported and distributed. That’s overreach and jeopardizes human’s role in the news business. Media owners should also be mindful that efficiency can also result in degradation of journalistic quality.

There’s also the question of accountability. Journalists can be held accountable for the errors they make. AI can’t.

Journalists possess creativity and can empathize with the people and topics they report on. Machines can’t.

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher made a fiery and compelling speech when announcing that their union was going on strike. She said, “At some point, the jig is up. You cannot keep being marginalized and disrespected and dishonored,” she said. “At some point, you have to say no.”

These are powerful words and can be taken to heart for all workers who find themselves in situations of exploitation and underappreciation.

It’s true, sometimes, “you have to say no and negotiate with strength.”

In industries where AI and technology are fully adopted, and at the same time we see that their CEOs are making millions of dollars in annual salary and bonuses while workers skimp by just to pay for basic necessities, you have to wonder how much the cost savings rendered by AI and technology is really worth it.

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