Earlier this week, The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced it had reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to end its strike action after 148 days.
The WGA initially organized the strike to advocate for pay increases and to prevent the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in scriptwriting. Its new contract not only achieved pay increases for its writers but also set forth some serious limitations on AI usage as a whole.
For instance, under the new agreement, studios can no longer use generative AI to write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated content is forbidden from being used as source material.
In addition, writers also have the option to use AI when performing writing services, so long as the company consents. Still, companies cannot mandate that writers use AI when performing writing services.
For Hollywood and the filmmaking industry, this new contract will insulate scriptwriter jobs from automation by preventing major Hollywood studios from being able to use ChatGPT to generate stories. More broadly, the agreement highlights that workers play a greater role in defining how AI is deployed in the workplace.
Defining the Role of AI
After the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, much of the conversation around the adoption of AI has been led by a small group of technologists and AI developers, who have championed the adoption of the technology while overlooking the impact that mass automation could have on the workforce.
From Sam Altman rushing to create artificial general intelligence (AGI) sophisticated enough to replace a “median human” to Harvard Business Review researchers arguing companies won’t have a choice in AI adoption, it’s clear that little consideration has been given to the impact these disruptive technologies will have on workers’ lives.
Some of these cavalier attitudes toward the impact of AI have seeped into the film industry, with one notable example occurring at the AI on the Lot conference in Los Angeles earlier this year, where one speaker dismissed those concerned about AI in script writing as “insecure about their own talent“.
The WGA’s new contract not only highlights that writers in the film industry have legitimate concerns over automation decreasing their job stability but also shows that workers are demanding a place at the negotiating table to discuss how AI is leveraged in the workplace and in this instance, the creative process.
Through the power of unions and collective bargaining, workers don’t necessarily have to accept the vision of AI adoption put forward by AI enthusiasts and technologists; they can also put forward their own vision and have a say in the role that AI plays in their workflows.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that organizations can’t afford to ignore the needs of workers when embracing disruptive new technologies.
Starting a Two-Way Dialogue
With some estimates suggesting that 27% of jobs are at high risk from AI and others suggesting that as many as 300 million full-time jobs could be replaced, organizations can’t afford to overlook worker’s anxieties over the impact of automation on their job security and quality of life.
Rather than trying to strong-arm employees into adopting AI and facing potential pushback in the form of strikes, it makes more sense for organizations to engage in a two-way dialogue with employees to discuss how AI could be used to make their work environment more productive.
As Ted Shelton, expert partner with Bain and Company explained earlier this year, “Successful automation programs depend on the support of the workforce, including contributors who can describe how processes can be improved, and creators who learn how to build simple automations that improve processes.”
Implementing automation based on employee feedback can help highlight how workflows can be changed to enable human workers to move toward more rewarding and high-value tasks.
Doing so not only makes for a more constructive and collaborative working environment where employees’ voices are recognized and respected but also reduces the need for workers to resort to strikes and union action to have a seat at the bargaining table.
The WGA’s successful contract negotiation highlights that workers can and will push back against automation if they’re concerned about their job security.
Organizations can avoid this conflict by being receptive to employees’ concerns and feedback to implement AI and automation in workflows in a way that’s mutually beneficial, rather than alienating employees by committing to an automation-at-any-cost mindset.