Why the Hollywood writers’ strike matters even to people who don’t care about, or even like, Hollywood. And yes, it’s about AI.
As the last generation not born with a smartphone in the pocket of their onesie enters mid-life, something of a reckoning is happening.
Big Tech has given us many gifts over the years. We’ve been able to find that last minute Christmas gift or that dishwasher part in someone’s garage on the other side of the country. We’ve been able to find and reconnect within 24 hours with a friend or colleague we hadn’t seen in 10 years. We’ve been able to quickly find that piece of information at the dinner table to allow the conversation to move on. We’ve seen, read and heard things from all around the world that we probably never would have been exposed to in our lifetime without the internet.
But for all the gifts Big Tech has given us, we’re also starting to realize everything it has stolen from us. All the inspired ideas that would have come to us while we stared at the ceiling during 10 minutes of boredom. All the big or small moments of joy born from the random encounters we would have had if we’d physically gone to the store, the club or the theater. The peace of mind of being able to exclusively focus on what was happening in the space we were standing in. The mental wellbeing of simply not knowing what other supposedly prettier, wealthier or more successful people were doing every second of every day. Our privacy. Our intimacy.
And as we arrive at the middle of our life and start weighing the balance between the given and the stolen, we’re realizing that the winner is not as clear cut as the marketing tried to make us believe. Big Tech’s first big promise was that it was going to make our lives easier. Sure, but it has also made it a lot more difficult to just enjoy said life. Big Tech’s second big promise was that it was going to connect people like nothing before. Sure, but it has also divided us quite a bit.
So what impact could this generational reckoning have on the upcoming next evolution of tech, namely: Gen-AI and Machine Learning? I hear and see a lot of conversation about it on Linkedin, in the news, in my head…everyone rushing for an angle, bait for a click, a moment of influence or a way to justify why they’re building a company that can make them millions of dollars in the “bubble moment” even though it will inevitably steal and destroy millions of jobs people still actually need and — unlike many jobs rendered obsolete by prior evolutions — are safe and they enjoy doing.
But around me, in the real world, there doesn’t seem to be a strong appetite for the product that can come out of AI. On the contrary, the reaction is more: “Ugh, what are they doing now?!” Some people will tell you it’s because we’re not “there yet” — we’re already old, and we don’t understand the potential of this normal, inevitable evolution of technology and all the good it will do for the world. Is that what this is? Or is it because we’ve already been fooled once by a business ecosystem promising us that actually, we didn’t know what we needed and they would teach us because that’s what they needed us to buy? Or is it simply because we all kind of want to re-adjust the balance and go back to a world with less tech-kind and more human-kind for ourselves and our children.
For better or for worse, nobody was scared of Facebook or the iPhone when they came out. The same cannot be said right now.
Our generation still longs for big disruptions — one of Tech’s favorite words. We want a shakeup of our healthcare system, we want less nasty hatred in our politics, less mass shootings in America, cheaper and more natural food, less global warming, less of a wealth gap, less terrorism. These are the disruptions we want and machine learning will hopefully help in some of these areas. But when it comes to generative AI, I don’t think having a computer write our news, our songs, our stories or create our art or our visual effects is something people really want or care about. There’s even a chance that we, the people, are going to actively reject it because we’re perfectly fine with having fellow humans doing this work and making a living off of it. We actually almost all agree it’s better this way. Business might not be able to push this one down our throats, no matter how much money it can make them. We’ve been down this road before: Google glasses, 3D cinema, fascism. (And I think the jury is still out on self-driving cars.)
And that’s why the current writer’s strike in Hollywood is extremely important, even for those who don’t work in or care about Hollywood. Because these writers are the first ones actually going head to head against the unregulated use of AI — a usage that needs to be called out every single time so Big Business can never hide it, as they did with all these cookies they put in our browsers for more than a decade or all the digital experiences they designed for our addiction.
If there’s direct sunlight on the usage of AI, I don’t believe it’s going to be perceived nor received as some beautiful rainbow that’s going to carry us into the future. History has proven time and time again that at the end of every cycle, it’s the people (a.k.a. the consumers) who decide. Not the businesses. And look, I haven’t always loved my fellow Millennials, but as the ones currently bearing the responsibility of raising the next generation, it doesn’t sound like we’re going to get fooled twice.
Because we’ve seen this movie before.