Film / TVMusicOpinionRace

On AI-Generated Works: What About Black Writers?

April 26, 2023

Artificial intelligence (AI) in our everyday lives isn’t necessarily new at this point. Text-to-speech and speech-to-text functionalities are great examples of AI tools on your phone. However, the ability to clone a voice is deep fake technology with sinister implications for everyone. Imagine getting a phone call from a loved one claiming they’re kidnapped only to find that it’s all a hoax. One Arizona mother recently experienced this kidnapping scam with a $1 million ransom. 

Is vocal cloning the next way to steal from people?

The last record The Weeknd and Drake debuted, “Live For”, featured on The Weeknd’s Kiss Land album in 2013. This year, a new collaboration, “Heart On My Sleeve” went viral…except neither Drake nor The Weeknd had anything to do with the record.

As millionaires associated with Universal Music Group, a controlling entity in the global music market – The Weeknd and Drake are good. But what happens when a lesser-known artist’s voice comes across the feed of an unscrupulous A&R representative, then suddenly, instead of having a music career, their voice is cloned? If this sounds far-fetched, it’s arguable that vocal cloning is the natural progression of the “ghost singing” Amber Riley discussed with Jennifer Hudson.  

Over the past few weeks, the Writers Guild of America (WGA)  has been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The basic contract between WGA and AMPTP, the Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA)  is negotiated every three years, with the current contract expiring on May 1, 2023. Last week, guild members voted in favor of a strike should the negotiations fall through. 

Paying employees fairly vs exploiting employees with AI

Many will recall the writers’ strike of 2007 and its implications for television. While reality television was already on its way to becoming a TV staple, the strike disrupted programming and accelerated its progression. Key issues of the 2007 negotiations were “DVD residuals, union jurisdiction over animation and reality program writers, and compensation for “new media”.” As the two organizations negotiate this year, the key issues seemingly boil down to better pay and the use of artificial intelligence. 

With inflation and fear of a recession, it should come as no surprise that writers are advocating for better pay. In fact, any worker advocating for better pay is a universal issue across every industry. Equally, artificial intelligence may be on the negotiation table for writers right now, but it’s of universal concern. For the creative industry, the idea that AI could replace human employees is a noteworthy concern. 

Do AI-generated scripts a show make?

Variety reports that WGA proposes AI-generated scripts be permissible, as long as the credits and residuals of writers aren’t negatively affected. As proven throughout human history, there is no stopping technological advancement. Equally speaking, however, technological advancement has often left writers with the proverbial short end of the stick. Even though WGA proposes AI-generated scripts be permitted as “tools”, cutting writers out or grossly underpaying them is already commonplace. Who is to say that the same won’t be true as artificial intelligence improves?

To drive this point forward, see the ChatGPT-generated “dialogue between an African American mother and child for television” below. Does this script seem believable as it is? Not exactly. With a few tweaks, however, it could make for a great scene if the right actor, director, and set designer were employed to bring the dialogue to the screen. Given this, as artificial intelligence improves, there are likely to be fewer “tweaks”. 

AI-generated works affect all writers. However, for the Black writers already sidelined by structural and institutional racism, the implications of AI widening the racial divide in the writers’ room are grave.

ChatGPT dialogue:

An African American MOTHER, late 30s, sits on a couch with her CHILD, 
a curious 6-year-old GIRL, sitting beside her. They are watching a 
historical documentary on TV about African American civil rights 
(pointing at the TV)
Sweetie, do you know who that is?

No, Mommy! Who is it?

(grinning proudly)
That's Rosa Parks, honey. She was a brave woman who fought 
for our rights.

What rights, Mommy?

(leaning in, explaining)
Well, sweetheart, a long time ago, people with brown skin like ours 
were treated unfairly. They weren't allowed to sit in the front 
of the bus or go to certain schools just because of 
their skin color.

That's not fair, Mommy!
No, it wasn't. But Rosa Parks and many others stood up and fought 
for equality and justice. They made sacrifices so that we could 
have the same rights as everyone else.

(with determination)
I want to be like Rosa Parks when I grow up, Mommy!

You can be anything you want to be, sweetheart. Just remember, 
you are strong, capable, and you have the right to be treated 
with respect, no matter what anyone says or does.
I promise, Mommy!

The mother hugs her child tightly, and they both turn 
their attention back to the TV, watching the documentary 
with pride and determination in their eyes.

We're so lucky to have heroes like Rosa Parks who paved 
the way for us.

(whispering back)
Yes, Mommy. I want to make a difference too!

The screen fades to black as the mother and child continue 
to watch the documentary, inspired by the stories of 
resilience and courage of African American civil rights 
activists who fought for equality and justice.