SAG 2023 Strike Potential Relies on the Same Matter as the Writers’ Strike: Artificial Intelligence

**What The Writers And Actors Strikes Have In Common**

The last-minute extension of SAG-AFTRA’s contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is due to run out Wednesday at midnight. Producers have asked for federal mediation in the dispute, and on Wednesday, the actors union agreed to it.

But the two sides remain as of now deadlocked, with a strike appearing more and more likely—an overwhelming majority of SAG-AFTRA members voted to authorize a strike last month.

Should it move forward, the actors would join the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike since spring, on the picket line. The two unions have more in common than the looming strike. They also share a primary concern that’s driving the labor unrest: uncertainty over the use of artificial intelligence in entertainment.

It’s one of the issues that sparked the writers strike. With the recent rise of ChatGPT and other sources of artificial intelligence that can whip out content (not to say outstanding content, but content nonetheless) in a matter of minutes, writers want guarantees that they won’t be replaced by machines. It’s been a significant hang-up in negotiations, and there’s no sign the WGA and AMPTP have moved any closer. WGA has voiced fears AI could be used to “undermine” writers’ positions and eat into their residuals.

**What The Writers And Actors Strikes Have In Common**

While the risk of AI to writers may seem obvious, there’s no less threat to actors—the threat is just less defined as of now. It’s uncertain what form AI will take but certain that it will play a large role in the films and TV shows of the future. At a time when Harrison Ford has been de-aged a few decades to play a young Indiana Jones and CGI has moved beyond superhero movies to even tech-light ones, actors have a legitimate concern.

Justine Bateman perhaps knows this more than most. The multi-hyphenate (the former child actress now writes, directs and produces) also has a bachelor’s degree in digital management and computer science from UCLA. A WGA member, she recently wrote an op-ed in Newsweek detailing the perils of AI for writers but also for all of entertainment. It’s been on her mind for a while, and she sees the strike as a time to draw that line in the sand to protect writers’, and now actors’, worth.

“A friend of mine is a really talented video artist, and I saw some of the things he was posting, some animation stuff,” she said in an interview. “I called him and just said, how much of this are you designing? And he’s like, ‘Oh, none of it. I’m putting in prompts to AI.’ And I was like, wait a minute, tell me more because I was just surprised that somebody who’s so talented is playing around with it.

“And I started wondering, how much can be automated? How much, particularly of our reboots and rehashings and reimaginings and sequels that we’ve been doing for the last 10 to 15 years, can be automated? You can automate all of that.”

**SAG-AFTRA Strike Issue: Automating The Arts**

In her Newsweek article, she theorizes that AI could create a new season of her hit 1980s sitcom Family Ties without anyone from the original participating. The thought should alarm people, she says, and it goes to the heart of what the actors and writers are fighting for: a way to preserve the spark of what makes entertainment matter, the human element that gives it imperfections as well as those hard-to-predict, perfect moments.

“A lot of this automation can be done with things the studios already have—you don’t even really need an actor,” Bateman says. “It’s funny, we used to think robots were going to replace us in manual labor. And, you know, to a certain extent, a lot of a lot of those jobs have been replaced by machines. But I don’t know that it ever occurred to us they would replace the arts.”

That may just be the crux of the strike—and federal mediation may not be able to solve that, but it could kick the issue down the road a few years.

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