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What Fran Drescher's oratory firestorm means for AI development
BRACE: The existential battle between 'labour' and machines is brewing
Happy Friday all,
How quickly things change.
AI: From niche to existential within six months
In January, I was at CES, speaking at a SAG-Aftra panel on ‘AI goes to Hollywood.’
SAG represents 160,000 members, from background actors to Hollywood's biggest names. SAG has a long history in Hollywood. Ronald Reagan was a president back in 1957-52. (Great piece on that here.)
The panel was taking place before the true magnitude of how (Generative) AI will transform all creative and knowledge work — and the impact that will have on ‘labour,' was understood.
I made a passionate case for why AI would be a huge disruptor — both as a driver of humanity's creative and intelligent capabilities — but also as an automating force, replacing big chunks of knowledge processes still carried out by humans today.
Key to this debate is the deeply philosophical question about whether and to what extent AI will augment or automate humans.
(See my comments from Jan below. The full panel can be watched here.)
The audience was with me. But there was push-back from other panellists. One claimed that the latest AI hype would eventually dwindle, similar to the Metaverse. (I strongly disagreed.) And another downplayed its impact on talent in the entertainment industry — saying that AI wouldn’t be able to cross the Uncanny Valley or replace humans. (Uncanny Valley has long been bridged, in my opinion!)
Labour’s new frontline: Existential battles against machines and greed
Six months later, SAG's 160,000 members will join the Writers Guild of America in a strike. Announced yesterday, it marks the biggest shutdown of Hollywood since both unions last went on strike together in 1960.
The London premiere of Christopher Nolan’s new oeuvre — Oppenheimer — was brought forward so that its stars, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh, could “go and write their picket signs.”
But the real breakthrough star of this moment? Fran Drescher, current SAG President, and of former 90’s fame in ‘The Nanny.’The passionate speech she made went viral overnight.
🔥 It was an oratory firestorm.🔥
And in my view, her speech carries historical significance. Three elements of how she positioned the strike stood out to me.
First, this is much bigger than SAG or its 160,000 members.
Second, we are in the throes of a global and existential battle facing all creative and knowledge workers.
Third, the threats are machines (especially AI) and rapacious capitalists.
Existential battle 1: humans being replaced by machines — especially AI.
Fran identified how dramatically technology — especially AI is transforming the entertainment industry. Of course, this is true for entertainment and the entire knowledge economy. Her speech was powerful because she senses that this is a crossroads in history, not only about SAG but about a bigger battle brewing between ‘labour’ and those who own and deploy technology — particularly AI, to undercut workers.
“The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital… AI. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines.”
Existential battle 2: ‘Labour’ vs greedy, rapacious capitalists.
Wall Street vs the people and the concentration of power and wealth into a few hands. These are all themes that are going to accompany the AI revolution in a big way. Will AI's intelligence and economic promise be monopolized and centralized by a few big players whilst everyone else gets poorer and dumber?
“The eyes of the world, particularly the eyes of labour are upon us. What's happening here is important, because what’s happening here is happening across all fields of labour. By means of when employers make Wall Street and greed their priority, and they forget about their essential contributors that make the machine run. We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity.”
SAG — and Fran — have positioned themselves as the first line of defence in a world where ‘labour’ — is indelibly going to be transformed by artificial intelligence. These ideas will become increasingly prevalent in current societal discourse —particularly in the West.
As AI unlocks a creative and knowledge revolution, white-collar workers will start to feel that they are in an existential battle for their livelihoods.
Watch this space …. It’s important.
PS, I had the great pleasure of discussing this and so much more in a recent conversation with Sam Harris (for me, he is still the GOAT) on his Making Sense podcast. Our episode was released last week — it is our second conversation — hopefully, many more to come.
Namaste for now,
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