by James Delhauer
I still remember the first time my brother showed me The Terminator. Arnold Schwarzenegger lumbered through that film, a soulless and unstoppable killing machine hellbent on one thing: killing Sarah Connor so that the Skynet artificial intelligence (AI) could take over the world. This was my first exposure to the concept of artificial intelligence and because of it, I spent years waiting for our family computer to go postal in the middle of the night. Fortunately, computers don’t seem all that interested in genocide just yet. Instead, the AI applications that have come to dominate the news cycle in the last few years are focused on efficiency, productivity, and creativity. Services like ChatGPT, Google Bard, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and more are being used to complete tasks and churn out content faster than ever before—all of which have the potential to severely disrupt the work and livelihoods of people worldwide. That is why the IATSE has begun a series of initiatives to address the troubling concerns raised by the proliferation of machine-learning technology.
Back in May, IATSE International President Matthew D. Loeb announced the creation of the IATSE Commission on Artificial Intelligence. The goal of the commission is to bring IATSE members and representatives together with external experts to help shape the union’s approach to handling the challenges and opportunities presented by AI.
“As AI continues to evolve and proliferate, it is critical that our union is at the forefront of understanding its impact on our members and industry,” said President Loeb. “Just as when silent films became talkies and as the big screen went from black-and-white to full color, the IATSE Commission on Artificial Intelligence is part of our commitment to embracing new technologies. We will work to equip our members with the skills to navigate this technological advancement, and to ensure that the transition into this new era prioritizes the interests and well-being of our members and all entertainment workers.”
As part of the union’s efforts to embrace this new technology, the IATSE Education and Training Department has released a LinkedIn Learning Path (a compilation playlist of video courses on a particular subject). This initiative is the first of many educational initiatives, both on the international and local levels, that aims to equip IATSE members with comprehensive knowledge about the core aspects of contemporary artificial intelligence technologies so that workers are prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that new technologies bring. Additionally, the IATSE Training Trust Fund provides all members with a complimentary LinkedIn Learning Account, meaning that current members can take advantage of this learning path today.
However, embracing these new technologies isn’t the same as allowing them to run rampant. To that end, the union’s Political and Legislative Department has begun talks with government officials and fellow labor leaders to discuss the implications of AI for workers and the economy. Political and Legislative Director Tyler McIntosh met with representatives from the Biden/Harris administration to discuss IATSE’s concerns about how our members might be affected or displaced by machine learning. The meeting, which was attended by labor leaders, officials from the White House National Economic Council, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of the Vice President, demonstrated both the potential benefits and harm of using artificial intelligence in the workplace. On the one hand, there is no denying that many tasks can be completed in a fraction of the time they used to require and that these tools have the potential to improve safety and efficiency in the workplace. On the other hand, there are already real-world examples of the cons as well. Employers using AI to track employee performance metrics have been shown to inaccurately report or flag performance problems where none exist, leading to increased stress and mental anguish at work. It also opens up concerns about workers’ right to privacy, civil rights, and autonomy from employers. Leaders within the union also concurred that the integration of artificial intelligence poses a threat to the rights of creators, including their ownership of voices, likenesses, and the ability to derive fair benefits from their intellectual property contributions. Furthermore, the utilization of AI tools by employers has introduced the potential for job cuts and increased work schedule uncertainty. In light of these concerns, participants emphasized the importance of employers and the administration ensuring that workers continue to have access to high-quality employment opportunities that prioritize their well-being and health. They further emphasized the need for workers to have a voice in determining how AI is implemented in the workplace.
These talks and concerns have resulted in the creation of the IATSE Core Principles for Applications of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Technology. These eight principles represent the values our union holds when it comes to these new tools and our approach for how we will handle their continued development going forward.
1. A Comprehensive Approach
With stakes as high as the livelihoods of IATSE members in all crafts, the International is committed to addressing artificial intelligence in a comprehensive manner. Therefore, the union’s approach will encompass research, collaboration, education, political and legislative advocacy, organizing efforts, and collective bargaining.
AI is evolving at an exponential pace. From the time the first machine-learning tools hit the market a few years ago up till now, the progress these applications have had is staggering. This is because machine learning tools beget new tools to accelerate the pace of machine learning. This rapid pace requires constant vigilance and diligence when it comes to staying informed of current and developing trends. Therefore, the IATSE is committed to studying this technology with a focus on how they might reshape the entertainment landscape and work with experts to develop contract provisions, legislation, and training programs to ensure that these tools are used in an equitable way.
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IATSE leadership will collaborate with allied groups and organizations to build solidarity amongst labor advocates when it comes to AI. This partnership includes the AFL-CIO Technology Institute, the Human Artistry Campaign, the Copyright Alliance, and the Department of Professional Employees. Considering the decentralized nature of this technology and the practicality of engaging with multinational corporations, IATSE recognizes the importance of ongoing collaboration with external allies beyond the United States and Canada. This includes fostering partnerships with organizations such as UNI MEI and BECTU. By working collectively with these international counterparts, IATSE aims to address the challenges posed by the global reach of AI and strengthen the labor movement on a global scale.
IATSE members perform some of the most specialized jobs in the world. Many of us have had a direct hand in developing the tools and technologies we use at work. Given that these new tools have the power to reshape many of our crafts as they currently exist, the IATSE is committed to ensuring that members have the right to receive necessary training and retraining opportunities so that their livelihoods may be protected in the face of technological advances. This will be facilitated through the union’s Education and Training Department, the IATSE Training Trust Fund, and Local-sponsored training through the Contract Services Skills Training Program.
Although AI and machine learning have the potential to disrupt jobs and displace workers, they undeniably also have the potential to create new jobs, new fields of industry, and new avenues of entertainment. The applications for AI in motion picture and television are obvious, but the possibilities for virtual reality, augmented reality, and yet unimagined artforms are endless. As new fields of work emerge, the IATSE is committed to organizing workers under union contracts to ensure that technology does not replace human interests as the priority in our industry.
6. Maintain Workers’ Rights, Members’ Job Security, and Union Jurisdiction
Employees who utilize AI tools deserve the same rights and protections as those who do not. It is crucial that the introduction of new technology does not serve as a pretext for undermining the hard-won advancements in working conditions that unions have tirelessly fought for over the course of many decades. Nor should it serve as a means to bypass the role of unions altogether. The union remains steadfast in its commitment to advocating for the job security of its members in the face of artificial intelligence.
7. Political and Legislative Advocacy
The union will continue to pursue its Federal Issue Agenda, focusing on strong copyright and intellectual property laws and labor protections. This will include lobbying efforts to ensure workers making use of AI are appropriately compensated for their work, that people are prioritized over machines in the creative process, that intellectual property owners are protected from theft, and to prevent legal loopholes from being used to exploit individuals, companies, and organizations within the IATSE’s scope of influence.
8. Collective Bargaining
Is this one really a surprise? It’s basically priority one for every union in the world. IATSE is committed to negotiating with employers and fighting for provisions to address the negative aspects for AI in all future contracts. IATSE is committed to demanding transparency from employers with regards to their use of AI, even if government policy does not yet reflect this demand. Lastly, the IATSE is committed to protecting privacy rights and ensuring that AI applications are held to the highest ethical standards, especially when regarding issues of discrimination and fairness.
AI scares me. In all the generations in history, we will likely be the first to see two industrial revolutions in a single lifetime. The rise of the internet changed the face of the world. Jobs were created. Jobs were lost. Knowledge was shared like never before. People who had never had the opportunity to be educated suddenly had the opportunity. People who couldn’t communicate due to language or distance suddenly could. But we’ve all seen the dark side of it. Intellectual property theft exploded like never before. Algorithms that prioritize profits over the well-being and mental health of users are everywhere. Media echo chambers that drown out real conversation have led to civil unrest. For every good that the internet has achieved in the last thirty years, there is a corresponding negative to go with it. Artificial intelligence has the potential to do the same thing, but bigger. This is why I applaud the IATSE for stepping up to address these concerns in such a committed manner. The genie of AI might already be out of the bottle, but there is still time to make sure that that is a good thing.