Time moves on, and so does technology – and that latter movement has the capacity to upend what have become traditional ways of doing things. That seems to be one of the concerns of the Writers Guild of America. Amid the issues screenwriters are striking over – wages, compensation, viewership-based residuals, staffing shortages – the union also seeks to “regulate use of material produced using artificial intelligence or similar technologies,” a direct response to the explosive growth of writing tools like ChatGPT.
Mainly, the WGA seeks assurance that AI tools not be used to write or rewrite literary material, nor be used as a source for material. But this quest is misguided. AI tools that produce text don’t “create.” As ChatGPT itself will tell you if you ask it to predict something, its database parses the web for data through September 2021 – meaning that it is basically doing nothing more than assembling existing data into a readable form. In other words, it doesn’t produce anything that anyone searching the web could not have found themselves – except that ChatGPT does the work far faster and in a more organized way than a human could.
As such, it’s really just a research tool – and banning it from suggesting ideas for scriptwriters would be tantamount to telling journalists in the late 1990s that they couldn’t use Google to research articles. Sure, a lazy journalist could cut and paste sentences from different articles, but the result wouldn’t be much good; writing, whether for news or for scripts, requires a creativity that AI tools just don’t have, at least right now. Anybody can feed ideas into automated AI-based text engines like ChatGPT – which can spit out a script complete with characters, scenarios, even song lyrics. But at their best, these products, based on existing content, are a new twist on the same old story. Only humans can create new ideas.
Having said that, these generative AI tools, especially as they grow more advanced, can be powerful tools to help talented screenwriters who learn how to use them well. Just as Photoshop didn’t put photographers out of business but rather provided enhanced photo-editing skills, which let them utilize their skills to produce amazing results that would have been impossible otherwise. Good photographers learned how to make the most of the advanced editing tools provided by Photoshop, and good writers will learn how to utilize the tools offered by advanced AI.
Screenwriters need to stop fearing AI and learn now to use it. For example, a writer developing a scene about a break-in could use generative AI tools to try out new, creative break-in methods that are perhaps impervious to detection by current police methods. Using data about how police currently investigate break-ins, generative AI could come up with ways for crooks to compromise security systems that current police capabilities aren’t capable of detecting – bringing a new, fresh storyline to a genre where there is a great deal of repetition, if not outright duplication.
AI then, isn’t the enemy – and in fact, it can actually help jumpstart the creative process; systems can aggregate ideas and scenarios that have already been used, presenting them to writers who can use the data to move old stories in new directions, saving them time on research. And because computers aren’t union members, writers – who can legitimately take credit for their own ideas, even if they got some help” from AI – can keep all the money they earn. The Guild has legitimate concerns, but AI need not be one of them. Instead of stifling creativity, AI can be the fuel for a new golden era in TV and the movies – making them more articulate, more sensitive, more relatable, and more powerful.
About the Author
Ben Pines, director of content, AI21 Labs (creators of Wordtune). Ben is a content marketing professional with 15+ years of experience. He believes in the transformative power of words and is passionate about helping those in the field improve their craft.
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