WASHINGTON – In the movie “Simone” (2002), Al Pacino plays a director whose star, played by Winona Ryder, walks out on him after saying that her trailer on set isn’t grand enough.

Disgusted, Pacino’s character secretly creates an obedient computer-generated actress to replace his temperamental one. Simone is a perfect-looking blonde, named after the computer program that created her, Simulation One.

But Simone is so successful – showered with Oscars, adored by fans – that she overshadows her director, who becomes jealous and gets rid of her with a computer virus. But he made her so realistic, he is accused of her murder.

Be careful what you wish for, Hollywood studios, as you mess with the primal force of AI

Tinseltown goes dark as the actors join the writers on strike. Hollywood’s century-old business model has been turned upside down by Covid and also by streaming, which has come in like an occupying army. Then streaming hit a ceiling, and Netflix and Co.

With a dramatically different economic model shaped by transformative technologies — AI is a key issue in the strike — the writers and actors want a new deal. And they deserve it.

Brooks Barnes of The Times describes the mood of the city as very French Revolution, with writers and actors raging at the Marie Antoinette antics of CEOs and studio heads collecting huge salaries, frolicking in Cannes and yawning at Sun Valley.

Or barricades!Credit…Danish Bald

In addition to pay equity, writers want to make sure they’re not undercut by algorithms, and actors want to prevent their digital likenesses from falling under new ownership.

It is a complex issue. Even as writers demand that studios not replace them with AI, some studio execs no doubt wonder if the writers are being hypocritical: Will they start using AI to help them finish their scripts on deadline?

Chatbots are so savvy — and growing more and more every second — that many studio outfits are probably itching to bypass the middle screenwriter.

As Puck’s Matthew Belloni said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “You can say, you know, ‘Here’s the ‘Social Network’ script. Write me a script, but make it about Elon Musk, not Mark Zuckerberg.”

Jaron Lanier, the father of virtual reality, long warned that we were cruising for a bruise. As he told me nine years ago, the lords of the cloud acted as if they were inventing a digital brain, when what they were really doing was making a mash-up of real brains.

He said that when machines were translating one language into another, they were relying on human translators, taking matching phrases from aggregated data; those translators should have the right to negotiate for compensation for unintentionally feeding the AI ​​brain.

He also pointed out that Facebook and other social media have been extracting our precious data for years, without giving us payment or any of the other rights that a first-class citizen would normally have. He said it would be unfair if Hollywood studios created fake versions of actors and then didn’t pay them.

The compensation issue is now center stage. Sarah Silverman has joined class-action lawsuits against OpenAI and Meta accusing them of copyright infringement, saying they “ingested” her work to train their AIs.

The ingestion and synthesis of words, images and music takes place in giant gulps. Indeed, the day is fast approaching when the digerati will be able to make an entire fake movie.

As Lanier said, “They might say, ‘Make me a movie like Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible.’ However, make sure that none of the synthetic actors can be confused with known actors and make sure that we don’t get sued, but let’s go right to the line.’ That’s not entirely feasible today, but I see no reason why it wouldn’t be. It’s just math. And we can do it.”

Bob Odenkirk on the Writers Guild picket line.Credit…Danish Bald

He said the Hollywood strikers are just the tip of the iceberg. “People say, ‘Why should we help these glamorous, left-wing, very well-paid actors? Tell them.’ But if you drive a vehicle for a living or work in a place where you use heavy machinery like an auto shop, all kinds of jobs, this will set the legal precedents that could protect you in the future as well.” Almost no one is immune to the risk that AI could devalue their economic position, although AI will also have far-reaching benefits.

“Tech companies would be helped by bringing the whole society into the process of improving how models work using economic incentives,” Lanier said. But, he added, if we get it wrong about “data dignity,” society will “turn into misery pretty quickly.”

“This really is for everyone,” he said of the effort not to be swallowed up by AI “It might not seem like it, but it really really is.”

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