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Rejection of the WGA’s Very Basic A.I. Requests Is Extremely Bleak

The infamous scene where the boys get their revenge on the printer. source: 20th Century Studios

As of today, the Writer’s Guild of America is officially on strike after major studios refused to meet their demands. The entertainment industry has increasingly been ramping up its expectations of creatives while consistently underpaying and underserving its writers, who are the backbone of the industry in its entirety. One major concern for industry writers, as outlined in the guild’s demands, is regarding the role AI will play in scriptwriting moving forward.

For those who can’t access Twitter, the guild asked that there be regulations placed on AI usage within writers’ rooms. Their specific concerns came down to three things: using AI to create or edit material; using AI as source material; and training AI using pre-existing material, with or without the creator’s prior consent. These are incredibly reasonable concerns and stipulations, considering how quickly AI is being implemented into major media networks (especially in news outlets), and with layoffs and division cuts being immediate consequences.

AMPTP’s proposal was to offer “annual meetings to discuss advancements in technology.” In other words, they’re not taking concerns about AI nearly as seriously as they should be. Meeting up annually can be interpreted as a long-term lack of commitment, because how much can actually be accomplished during one meeting a year? And considering how quickly major networks are trying to churn out new content for viewers, one can only assume that they are hoping to implement AI in the immediate future to create more content on a steadier basis.

Please humor me and take a few minutes to watch this scene below, from Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise:

A machine couldn’t write this script. The entire film was written with connection in mind, and the ease and flow that occurs when you really, strongly connect with another person. As such, lead actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy contributed greatly to the script (which was already in good hands with Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan’s talents), because they knew how important it was to appear as natural as possible within the context of the film’s story. And while a particularly talented actor might be able to translate an AI-generated piece of writing into something genuine, ultimately that’s not why AI is being introduced to writers’ rooms.

Here’s the thing: Writing is a very human practice, as well as one that’s central to human history as a whole. Writing connects people and communities. Writing can reflect entire perspectives and lived experiences that we might never otherwise experience ourselves. The kind of bare, drab writing that AI is useful for is the sort of writing that is not at all conducive to good storytelling, and it’s incredibly worrisome that this is the sort of writing producers are gunning for. Also, AI writing is only possible, and will only continue to get better, by stealing—sorry, learning from actual, living, talented writers who are simply asking to be consulted about and compensated for their role in growing artificial intelligence.

Entertainment is shifting more towards quantity than quality, meaning the stories we see more of will be increasingly less human. And if our stories aren’t representative of humanity, what the hell are they good for? The only reason behind this development is increased capital, at the expense of everyone else involved in the process.

Now, you might be thinking the writers are jumping the gun here, and they’re predicting an apocalypse before they even know it’ll happen. But at this point, they are more than justified in their concerns. Writing is a skill that has to be honed and nurtured, and there is tangible value to good writing in any industry. As such, entertainment as we know it cannot stand without a team of good writers. But the writers in question are continually underpaid and unable to live in the cities they work in. The stereotype of the “lazy writer” is alive and well, and with AI becoming so prominent, it’s becoming easier to believe this stereotype. A common thread of dissent I hear is, “Maybe this will convince the writers to actually be more creative and do better work.”

To which I say: there is so, so, so much good work out there that you must call into question WHY a piece of writing might be bad. Were the writers hired out of nepotism? Were they under a crunch? Was the director notorious for being overly controlling? Writers are an easy scapegoat for the existence of mediocre content, but only for those who lack the critical thinking to challenge how the industries in power factor into the writing process. AI isn’t the answer—livable wages and reasonable hours are the answers.

We stand in solidarity with the strikers. TV and movies be damned, give us our humanity back.

(Featured Image: 20th Century Studios)

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Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).