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From airlines to Hollywood, unions fight to keep AI at bay

From airlines to Hollywood, unions fight to keep AI at bay


Hollywood writers say ChatGPT can’t make better TV than humans. Radiologists are convinced that humans will want them to review medical images of patients, not just artificial intelligence. Pilots doubt that people will ever feel comfortable with an algorithm flying a plane.

While artificial intelligence is improving rapidly and some economists are predicting the technology will put millions of workers out of work, unions are resisting it. In negotiation sessions, AI is increasingly becoming a central sticking point, with organizers arguing that companies are short-sighted to replace knowledge workers with technology that cannot match human creativity and which is riddled with errors and prejudices.

Some unions have made progress recently, such as Hollywood directors who hit a agreement in principle Saturday with film studios and collected promises that they will not be replaced by artificial intelligence. It was one of the first concessions unions won regarding AI protections.

Our industry is changing rapidly, said Lesli Linka Glatter, president of the Directors Guild of America. in a report Tuesday, after the Guild Council unanimously approved the tentative deal. This agreement is what we need to adapt to these changes.

But it will be a much more complicated and longer fight for other industries, according to economists. Union membership is in decline, companies have more leverage in bargaining struggles and unions need to find messages that appeal to cost-cutting leaders, these experts added. These tussles over technology offer a first glimpse of the effectiveness of organized labor to protect workers.

Daron Acemoglu, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said there’s no reason to believe leaders alone will make the right decisions about how AI might be used. You need workers’ voices, he said.

In fact, the Writers Guild hasn’t always cared about AI, said a member who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. At a pre-strike meeting at the Hollywood Palladium theater in February, people laughed when AI was brought up during a question-and-answer session, the member said.

Five or six weeks later, the narrative had changed. News reports, public speeches and protest signs were all about AI. Talking about the workers’ struggle in terms of automation has made it more accessible to the public, the MP said.

Months later, representatives from the Writers Guild of America said the studios would not even committing to AI during negotiations, and that’s how the union knew it would be a big deal. But it’s hard to determine how much of a current threat that is, the member said. Maybe they’re ready to replace us all, the MP said, adding that AI has become a unifying aspect of the strike.

The WGA highlighted a tweet saying it was proposing to regulate AI and acknowledged it had meetings to discuss the negotiation agreement.

Unions are no strangers to the fight technological advances. In the 1950s, autoworker unions fought to incorporate digital computing machines into automobile manufacturing without replacing people on the assembly line. Warehouse workers lobbied not to be replaced by robots. Office workers sought protections after the rise of the Internet and tools such as spreadsheets.

But generative artificial intelligence, which powers products that create text, video and audio, will prove difficult, industry experts said. AI can produce content plausible enough to replace certain types of work, namely writing, translation, and entry-level paralegal tasks. Some companies are willing to replace humans, even if it may provide lower quality work, the experts added.

ChatGPT took their jobs. Now they walk dogs and fix air conditioners.

This dynamic will force unions to adapt their messaging, Acemoglu said. They shouldn’t go into discussions saying they’re completely against artificial intelligence. Instead, he said, they need to stress to management that AI without human involvement can cost more in errors and lead to second-rate work that will tarnish their brand.

Additionally, unions should come to the bargaining table to demand a role in deciding how technology is used alongside workers, he said, and market it as a tool used to augment work. creative rather than replacing it.

Hollywood can learn from other industries that have struggled with artificial intelligence.

In the mid-2010s, artificial intelligence researchers made breakthroughs in using neural networks to recognize and categorize images. By feeding the algorithms millions of images, the software has developed its own way of recognizing patterns. As it improved, AI technology became popular for facial recognition and a host of other applications.

Tech leaders immediately predicted that medical fields such as radiology and dermatology, which require doctors to learn the subtle differences in x-ray images and spots on their patients’ skin, would be totally disrupted by AI.

In 2017, the American College of Radiologists (ACR) launched a Data Science Institute to study AI, educate its members about the uses and risks of the technologies, and be a public voice for physicians who technology leaders say were about to lose their jobs. The group does not oppose AI, but it insists that doctors should always be at the center of determining the use of the technology.

Even though technical managers still cite radiology as a field that will be disrupted by AI, the majority of radiologists do not use it, despite the availability of several tools, according to a study 2021 by the ACRs Institute.

Despite the huge hype surrounding AI over the past five years, our survey found that less than 30% of ACR members use AI in their clinical workflows, the group wrote in a blog post announcing the study.

For years, pilots have also lobbied against airlines that have tried to replace them with automation. Since the 20th century, commercial flights have grown from four or five crew members to now rarely more than two. Better technology and automation allowed airlines to cut out navigators, radio operators and third pilots, leaving only the pilot and co-pilot.

But even as autopilot technology advances, human pilots have staunchly resisted attempts to reduce flight crews to one.

Two experienced, well-trained and rested pilots on the flight deck are the most critical safety feature of any airliner, said Joe DePete, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, a union representing thousands of American pilots and Canadians, in 2022, in response to a flurry of media coverage suggesting robot pilots were on the horizon. The association will continue to push back against those who seek to reduce or completely eliminate this vital safety feature.

Aviation industry regulators have also expressed concerns about how automation can make pilots more complacent. Overreliance on technology was a key factor in episodes where planes hit cables or the ground before reaching landing strips, according to a memo 2022 of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The most insidious aspect of automation is its propensity to breed complacency and erode pilot confidence, the FAA writes in the memo. The more time we spend on autopilot, the less time we have to maintain our practical skills.

The Hollywood strikes are instructive, Acemoglu added. The Writers Guild has proposed regulations on how AI can be used to create source material or rewrite literary works, but film executives have countered by establishing annual meetings to discuss the technology.

The Directors Guild has reached an agreement in principle with provisions confirming that AI is not a person and that generative AI cannot replace the functions performed by members.

While it’s encouraging that the directors have won concessions from movie studios, Acemoglu said, it’s more important to see how the studios will negotiate with the writers, who have been on the picket lines for six weeks.

There are so many fewer managers, so they have more power, he added. There are so many screenwriters that they may not be strong enough.

A curious person’s guide to artificial intelligence

As a member of the Writers Guild for seven years, Dylan Brody appreciates that unions are focusing on artificial intelligence in their negotiations with movie executives.

Brody, 59, has tested ChatGPT’s ability to create TV episodes, recently asking him to create a family sitcom in which a working mother is surprised to find she has to support her husband when he loses his job and takes in charge of household chores.

The results have been mixed. There was no real laughter anywhere in it, he said.

The Writers Guild must ensure that studios do not replace its members with artificial intelligence because technology cannot create similar work in terms of creativity and quality, he said. Brody also said the writers’ fight against AI struck a chord with members on the picket line and helped galvanize support.

War against the robots are you kidding me? he said. It is something that stimulates the imagination. It’s a rallying cry.

Nitasha Tiku contributed to this report.




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