TV’s War With the Robots Is Already Here

Those same writers may be able to use A.I. tools productively; the WGA is calling for guardrails, not a ban. And the immediate threat of A.I. to writers’ careers may be overstated, as you know if you’ve ever tried to get ChatGPT to tell you a joke. (It’s a big fan of cornball “Why did the …” and “What do you call a …” constructions.) Some speculations, like the director Joe Russo’s musing that A.I. some day might be able to whip up a rom-com starring your avatar and Marilyn Monroe’s, feel like science fiction.

But science fiction has a way of becoming science fact. A year ago, ChatGPT wasn’t even available to the public. The last time the writers went on strike, in 2007, one of the sticking points involved streaming media, then a niche business involving things like iTunes downloads. Today, streaming has swallowed the industry.

The potential rise of A.I. has workplace implications for writers, but it’s not only a labor issue. We, too, have a stake in the war with the storybots. A culture that is fed entirely by regurgitating existing ideas is a stagnant one. We need invention, experimentation and, yes, failure, in order to advance and evolve. The logical conclusion of an algorithmicized, “more like what you just watched” entertainment industry is a popular culture that just … stops.

Maybe someday A.I. will be capable of genuine invention. It’s also possible that what “invention” means for advanced A.I. will be different from anything we’re used to — it might be wondrous or weird or incomprehensible. At that point, there’s a whole discussion we can have about what “creativity” actually means and whether it is by definition limited to humans.

But what we do know is that, in this timeline, it is a human skill to create a story that surprises, challenges, frustrates, discovers ideas that did not exist before. Whether we care about that — whether we value it over an unlimited supply of reliable, good-enough menu options — is, for now, still our choice.