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The first episode of Black Mirror’s sixth season portrays a dystopian scenario involving the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the entertainment business.

In the episode, a woman discovers that a Netflix-like streaming platform has launched a TV series based on her life, in which she is portrayed by an AI-generated Salma Hayek.

How far-fetched is this chilling depiction of cinema? Not at all! At least that is what Hollywood’s writers and actors are arguing as they continue to strike over the use of AI and data privacy concerns in the film industry.

Action on the picket line

In May 2023, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike over ongoing labor disputes with Hollywood’s largest studio companies, with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) joining picket lines later in July.

The strikers’ demands include salary increases aligned with inflation, compensation for shows on streaming platforms, improved health and safety processes on set, and protections against the use of AI in the film industry.

Recent developments in AI technology have left writers and actors seriously concerned about their future in the industry. Writers fear that they will not only lose jobs to AI algorithms but that those algorithms will be trained with existing scripts without appropriate credit or compensation to the writers. The actors’ union has also criticized Hollywood for its use of consent forms within contracts permitting the use of actors’ digital replicas in post-production for an unspecified duration with little to no compensation.

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Additionally, they argue that AI will significantly affect the career prospects of up-and-coming writers and actors, as both will spend less and less time on set, therefore reducing their ability to build industry contacts, an indispensable aspect of the film industry that has stimulated industry growth for over a century.

Hollywood’s silent AI hiring spree

Meanwhile, Hollywood studios have doubled down on AI with Amazon Prime, Disney, Netflix, and Sony accelerating their hiring of AI and machine-learning (ML) engineers in recent months. Netflix is currently hiring an AI product manager with an annual salary of $300,000 to $900,000, while another job posting for an entry-level role as an ML data engineer at Disney is advertising a starting salary between $89,398 and $119,790 per year. In comparison, 87% of SAG actors make less than $26,000 per year, according to the union.

It is difficult to determine the scope of each role and its potential impact on the entertainment business. Most of the positions build on existing AI capabilities and are not actively pursuing the eradication of actors or writers from the film industry. However, it is undeniable that AI automation will increase productivity and reduce operational costs for these companies. Therefore, its adoption is inevitable.

To their credit, all sides in the strikes acknowledge this reality. Serious concerns arise if the use of the technology is left unregulated. A lack of regulation will devalue and erode fundamental rights around copyright protection, data privacy, and image rights, which will impede industry professionals from receiving adequate recognition and compensation for their work.