Why AI Shouldn’t Exist

Two members of the SAG-AFTRA board dissented from the approval of the new contract because of the insufficient protection offered to actors in relation to artificial intelligence.

After a 118-day strike, the negotiating committee unanimously approved the deal, which was later endorsed by the national board with an 86% weighted vote in favor. The revised contract was then sent for ratification by the members.

Shaan Sharma and Anne-Marie Johnson were among the board members who dissented, citing the lack of protection against artificial intelligence as their primary concern, alongside other reservations.

Johnson expressed her view by stating, “There should be no AI. Only human beings should be used in what we create for public consumption. Without staving off AI, everything we achieved is for naught. It’s a waste of time.”

Sharma, an alternate member of the negotiating committee, was apprehensive about “significant loopholes” in the AI language, which posed “existential threats to some of our categories of work.”

The 18-page summary of the agreement released by SAG-AFTRA outlines the consent and compensation requirements for the use of AI to generate “digital doubles.” However, the agreement does not outrightly prohibit AI, which has raised concerns among the dissenters.

If an AI-generated synthetic character bears the likeness of a real actor and uses their name for the generation, the producer must obtain the actor’s consent.

Despite this provision, Sharma raised doubts, stating, “We didn’t get any meaningful protection there. If the replica doesn’t give a clear impression that it’s you, none of the protections apply.”

During an informational Zoom meeting, SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher addressed concerns regarding the AI provisions, stating the deal is not “perfect” and efforts will continue to push for further protections in future contracts.

The union is also pursuing legislation and lobbying efforts to influence public policy on the issue of AI.

The divisive nature of the agreement was evident during the meeting, with Justine Bateman, a former SAG board member, expressing criticism of the AI terms.

In an interview, Bateman emphasized the importance of awareness among members about the potential threats posed by AI and advised actors to have individual discussions with their agents and lawyers regarding protective measures.

Johnson, the national board member, also voiced dissatisfaction with residual bonuses in streaming, suggesting a share of revenue would have been preferable.

The voting deadline for ratification is Dec. 5, with Sharma predicting a likely approval based on previous trends. However, the rejection of the deal would not automatically lead to another strike.

Drescher and Crabtree-Ireland both defended the deal during the meeting, stressing the need to balance technological advancement with protective measures for actors.

Ultimately, the agreement includes provisions for studios to seek permission from estates or SAG-AFTRA for the use of AI to reanimate deceased actors, highlighting the complex nature of the issue.

Post-meeting, Johnson expressed her intent to draft instructions for the union, stating, “I refuse to approve any manipulation of my performance.”


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