Chalk up a victory for the humans in Hollywood’s latest War of the Machines. But expect a lot more battles to come.
The deal struck earlier this week between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will protect television and movie screenwriters from losing their jobs to computers that could use artificial intelligence to generate screenplays.
“It’s a breakthrough in collective bargaining,” said Thomas Kochan, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “I have not seen language like this in any other contract”
But the AI wars are far from over. SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, is still on strike and demanding that the studios set limits on the use of AI computers to simulate the bodies, faces, and voices of human performers. A host of best-selling authors including John Grisham and George R.R. Martin are suing the creator of AI program ChatGPT for using their books to train the AI without permission or compensation. Similar lawsuits have been filed against AI creators Meta Platforms and Stability AI.
The fighting isn’t confined to workers in the creative arts. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents hundreds of thousands of truck drivers, this week urged the US government to prevent General Motors from rolling out new models of its self-driving Cruise cars that will not include steering wheels and can be driven only by AI-powered computers. In a bid to protect its members’ jobs, the Teamsters have also called for legislation that would require all self-driving vehicles to have human operators.
The proposed Writers Guild contract has yet to be ratified by union members. A key component of the agreement “says AI is not a person and not to be treated as a person,” said Thomas Malone, an MIT Sloan professor who studies the future of work.
The deal ensures that all screenplays will be credited to human authors, even if they are substantially written by AI systems. If a computer generates a rough draft that is then completed by a human writer, the human gets the on-screen credit and the pay for producing an original work. If a writer is given a draft to rewrite, he or she must be informed if the draft was produced by AI. Conversely, writers cannot be compelled to use an AI system like ChatGPT when they write a script, but if they do, they must inform the producer.
This way, screenwriters and producers can freely use AI systems to generate new stories, while human writers keep control of the process and keep making a good living.
The power of the screenwriters’ union was crucial in their success. But nearly 90 percent of US workers don’t belong to unions, and it’s unclear how these workers can protect their jobs from encroaching AI systems.
“Where workers don’t have a voice through a union,” Kochan said, “most companies are not engaging their workers on these issues, and the workers have no rights, no redress.”
The best bet for US workers might be legislation to set standards for corporate use of AI systems, Kochan said. For example, companies could be required to inform workers in advance about AI deployments, with detailed information about how the technology would be used. Kochan also suggested a law to require companies to set up employee advisory boards to give workers some say in how AI would be deployed.
Malone noted that the novelists’ lawsuits against AI companies raise complex issues of copyright law. Can authors refuse to let their books be used in training AI systems, or is such training a protected “fair use” of copyrighted material?
“There is still ambiguity in the law,” said Malone, who has proposed a concept called “learnright.”
Just as copyright law limits the right of other humans to copy published works, a learnright law would limit the right of AI systems to learn from these works. Writers could declare their books both copyrighted and learnrighted, so a company would need explicit permission to use their books as AI training data.
But in the absence of new legislation, it’s unclear how non-union workers can fend off the AI challenge, despite the victory of the Hollywood screenwriters
“Just because a union gets a good deal,” Malone said, “doesn’t mean that non unionized workers get a good deal.”