the Hollywood AI Writers Strike: a test flight for UBI v0.1

hollywood AI writers strike protests 2023

Hollywood AI. This odd portmanteau means many things to many people. Who thought it would, however, actually be the tipping point that pushed us materially towards a UBI (universal basic income) future? It all began with a simple Writers Strike. One of many issues on the agenda was “Hollywood AI Writers vs. Humans.” Astonishingly, the complaint was valid, and the resolution (seems) satisfactory to both sides. Wait, wut?!?!?

A little background on what preceded Hollywood AI: Forbes just published an article announcing the “death” of broad areas of white-collar work and the data services industries, to be effectively replaced by AI bots within the next 12-18 months. While this “decay of human workers” may take longer than 18 months, it is, in fact, inevitable.

Jones: AI makes commercial artists “obsolete”

One need only look at commercial artists (magazine illustrators, graphic designers, logo designers, children’s book illustrators, animators, 3d modelers, etc.) and the current “easy-click-shake-and-bake” state of AI bots in these professions to see the writing on the wall for broader industries.

As someone who has, in the 1990s, charged $3,000 (and taken 30 days) to produce a custom illustration, and $1,500 to produce a logo, I can now produce very high quality (in most cases, *better* than 95% of human professionals quality) content projects within minutes, for pennies.

Doing some back of the napkin math, on the classic “you can have it high quality, quick, or cheap… pick any two”… that very human equation has now been utterly annihilated. You can now have very high quality artwork (@ 95th percentile), in minutes, for pennies. Thats:

  • +1.9x on quality (95th vs 50th percentile),
  • +40,000x on speed (60 seconds vs. 30 days)
  • +100,000x on cost ($3,000 vs. $0.03)

Multiply those together and you get a “force amplifier”, or efficiency rating above human labor, of 7,600,000,000 : 1 — 7.6 billion to one.

Put another way, applying a $3,000 budget to an AI artbot working non-stop for 30 days, you would produce the equivalent work product of 7.6 billion humans — effectively, the population of planet earth.

We often speak of “doubling” (Moores Law, exponential growth) or of “order of magnitude” (a 10x improvement) in technical and scientific circles. Do the math. This ratio of AI to human performance, measured across three axis of cost, speed, and quality, is in excess of 9 (yes, nine!) orders of magnitude, and it happened almost overnight!

(Technically, the “AI Art revolution” started in 2015 and took 6 years to gestate and mature. From a popular culture standpoint, it took about 12 months, from the launch of MidJourney in 2022 to the current models of MidJourney 6.0 and DALL-E 3.0 today)

These modern models, as stated, are able to create both photorealistic and/or highly stylized images of +any+ concept or scene description — concrete or abstract or metaphorical or comic bookish    at the press of a button, for pennies.

Which brings us to the topic of this article: The Hollywood AI Writers Strike, and UBI (Universal Basic Income — an esoteric acronym essentially meaning a global human welfare program, most probably funded by a radical (and forced) re-balancing of the current unbalanced global distribution of material wealth)

The Hollywood AI Writers Strike

Here was one of the major thrusts (imho, THE major thrust, but it’s debatable based on who you talk to) of the recent resolution of the Hollywood AI Writers Strike.

One of the major concerns of the writers is the growing use of ChatGPT and its siblings to create show concepts — even entire scripts, including set design, character expositions and dialog — from scratch. If Studios were to use the chatbots — already pre-trained on every script, every plot, and every trope to ever hit the silver screen — to generate new scripts (why? See cost economies for visual artists, above) — then why would they bother to either hire or pay actual human writers?

Yes, the argument was made that the AI lacks spirit and could never do the job of an Aaron Sorkin or other master of the trade… but what about all the factory-pumped drivel of monstrosities like “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning” that hit the tops of the blockbuster charts even with terrible writing?

Surely even a basic AI could churn out that kind of marketable nonsense, even if it could never match Tarantino (…but maybe it could?!?!?)

And so, the writers went on strike: attempting to protect their jobs, and perhaps for some, their very idea of humanity and art itself.

The Writers, arguably, won. This was the essence of the settlement:

In simple terms: If, in the future, AI is used to produce scripts wholesale, then the Studios will compensate the same number of humans, at the same rate, as they did before AI. Read between those lines:

Professional Writers, whose skillsets have become utterly obsolete in the Age of AI, will be generously compensated, as if they were working full-time, for doing… NOTHING.

Put another way: an Industry was put out of work by AI bots that outperformed them in every way. By the extreme extra profit that such AI deployment generates to the Studios (capitalist corporations), an entire welfare program for that industry will be funded and dispensed.


UBI. Universal Basic Income.

And if it works for Hollywood Writers, why shouldn’t it work for Graphic Artists, Studio Musicians, Illustrators, Photographers, and Architects (to name but a few).

As many in the AI industry have repeatedly commented, there is a deep irony here. Coming off the tails of the Industrial Revolution and the dawn of industrial robotics, it was broadly assumed that the first jobs to go would be factory workers, and blue-collar.

But now, with the emergence of the genius level chatbots, the reverse appears true: the first jobs to go (in the verbiage of executives and politicaisna, “the first jobs to be ‘displaced’”) are the creative class, followed by the white collar workers, those whose job it is to manipulate information — digital data — on a screen, with a keyboard, brain, and mouse.

That, eerily, includes computer scientists and software programmers, who up until now were thought to be one of the most secure professions of all-time. These days, I don’t know a single coder who doesn’t use AI-assist to write the code (entire chunks of it!), nor do I know anyone to imagine that there is a single programmer left standing within the decade (other than hobbyists, who do it for fun).

Within the decade — and probably much sooner — writing code will be as simple as sketching a UX on a napkin, and writing a high level functional specification — let the AI do the rest, from architecture to coding to unit testing to launch and upgrade cycles.

my joke website - hollywood ai

And then the programmers will want some UBI too. But — Oops! — coders don’t have a Union. They aren’t your traditionally organized labor. The very creators of the Beast may never be graced by the generous redistribution of its profits.

And so it goes.

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