The Hollywood Writers' Strike and the Future of Work

The Hollywood writers strike, As with most strikes, money is at stake. It’s also basically about technology. The rise of streaming platforms hasn’t boded well for the writers who are catering to the ever-growing demand for scripted content. According to the Writers Guild of America, studios have turned an industry that once supported stable writing careers into an industry gig economy of precarious, low-paid freelance work. And a new technological threat looms: AI-powered writing tools. The strikers are demanding a guarantee that studios won’t cut them off from royalties by citing AI tools like ChatGPT as script authors or as source material. In their defiance of what is widely regarded as unstoppable technological change, the authors inevitably draw comparisons to history’s most famous anti-tech people: the Luddites.

Luddites has long been a byword for anyone who resists technological progress. The original Luddites were English textile workers who rebelled against mechanization by breaking into factories and destroying machinery in the early 19th century, at the start of the Industrial Revolution. From today’s perspective, these acts are considered the pinnacle of irrationality—a childish outburst in the face of scientific advances. Today, utopians And doomsayers They have all declared artificial intelligence to be the next inevitable technological revolution. So the WGA’s call to limit the use of AI in screenplay writing is clearly lecherous. How could a bunch of scrappy wordsmiths stand in the way of this world-conquering juggernaut?

Indeed, a Luddite understanding derived from this actual story can help us assess the position of the WGA. The Luddites’ infamous attacks on machines were the culmination of their activities, not the beginning. Weavers had the legal right to control the textile trade, including setting prices and production standards. They viewed factory owners as people operating outside the law. The weavers appealed to the British Crown to enforce the terms of the royal charter but were ignored. With no other way out, they took matters into their own hands.

The Luddites were not a group of fanatics trying to slow down the course of history. They were laborers trying to protect their livelihoods from new machines that would use cheaper, less-skilled labor to produce inferior stockings. Like historian Eric Hobsbawm diagnosed decades agoIn doing so, they proceeded in a completely rational manner: After the suppression of their rebellion, their communities fell into disrepair. In fact, some historians have figured that out The standard of living fell broadly in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution. Writers might find themselves in a similar existential struggle against the machines.

These 19th-century textile mills have more in common with contemporary “disruptors” than you might think. Companies like Uber and Spotify are also accused of circumventing existing legal structures. Let’s call it “platform exceptionalism”: the notion that the old rules don’t apply because an existing service is now coming to us via an app. So Uber, a taxi service, does not have to abide by the taxi lawsand Airbnb, an accommodation provider, can avoid hotel or zoning regulations. It has been illegal to pay radio operators to play certain songs since the 1960s, but Spotify has permitted to give artists more visibility when they agree to forego royalties. Either way, workers are bearing the cost of change: gig workers and musicians both struggle to make a living on the crumbs they receive from the platforms.

Platform exceptionalism is at the heart of the WGA’s wage demands. Studios treat streaming content differently than cable and broadcast content, claiming they can pay writers a lot less for it. But streaming shows and movies are produced the same way as everything else. The studios’ position rests on nothing other than the belief that they’re strong enough to get away with it.

In this way, platform exceptionalism works like outsourcing, with companies moving their operations to jurisdictions that do not have rules on pay and working conditions. Outsourcing is proving to be part of the troubled labor history in the 21st century entertainment industry. With the majority of movies and TV shows now being produced in digital formats, editing and effects have become much easier and are at the heart of filmmaking. They are also easier to outsource because digital information can be accessed anywhere, unlike a film canister. “Fix it on the spot” often takes place abroad, where labor costs are cheaper and there is no union protection. Studios seem to be assuming technology will do the hard part and human labor will be replaceable. But reliance on poorly paid post-production work can cause annoyance for streaming viewers, for example at shows be too dark And hard to hear.

The Luddites were also concerned that the technology could affect the quality of the end product. They were skilled craftsmen who took pride in their work. New technologies such as the stocking frame led to cheap, poorly made garments. The Luddites felt that this cast the entire industry in a negative light. In a typical letter, one Luddist lamented that the making of such “fraudulent and fraudulent manufactures” led to “discrediting and the utter ruin of our trade.” The Luddites had no problem with new methods, as long as the manufacturers adhered to previously agreed prices and quality standards. Factory owners who worked according to these rules did not break their machines.

So far, writers and other creatives have seemed little concerned with the technology. But new, high-profile AI tools like Midjourney and ChatGPT are taking their cues from the typically human aspirations of art and language. The disturbances are already noticeable. A few months after ChatGPT opened to the public, the acclaimed sci-fi magazine was released Clarkesworld completed his entries against a barrage of AI-generated stories.

To be clear, the problem with these stories wasn’t that they were too good, it was that they were too bad. ClarkesworldThe inbox was simply overwhelmed with garbage. Because large language models generate text probabilistically based on the universe of existing content, mediocrity is built into the package. Hollywood is unlikely to switch to fully automated screenplay writing any time soon. Automation rarely means full replacement of the worker. Instead, workers are given less-skilled and less autonomous jobs while machines do the big jobs. This is exactly what seems to be happening in digital journalism outlets BuzzFeedwhich has closed its news department, fired writers and moved in ChatGPT for creating clickbait content. This is exactly what the WGA fears. If an author is asked to polish up a chunk of AI-generated paper instead of starting from a blank page, a studio could claim that the author is technically adapting source material, which pays a lot less than creating original content.

The Luddites resorted to violence in a context where the government ignored existing regulations and collective labor actions were illegal. Today’s workers have more choices. Italy has banned ChatGPT on the grounds that it violates European privacy laws. Artists test the legal framework Sue AI companies for copyright infringement due to the unauthorized incorporation of their work into training datasets. The NBA Players Union prevented Prevent owners from using fitness tracking data in contract negotiations. Unionized casino workers in Las Vegas have kept robots at bay, and in 2018, so did Marriott housekeepers strike partly to speak out against new planning software.

And so, the deployment of the WGA strike extends far beyond our ability to watch the next season of The White Lotus. As futurologists once again predict the near arrival of a world where robots will put us out of work, the WGA is pushing for an alternative future where workers have a say in whether and how new technologies are adopted. Anyone working in an industry where CEOs are seeing AI as a way to reduce labor costs should keep a close eye on how the strike is unfolding. This almost certainly includes you.

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