Voice Over Talent

SAG-AFTRA in 2023: To Ratify or Not to Ratify

I believe in the potential and power of advancements in computer science to help us solve big problems, especially in industries like healthcare, energy, and manufacturing. I believe in mobilizing around problems that are almost universally recognized. I’ve invested in several AI funds and companies, ranging from those focused on software (APIs, data sets, and language models) to hardware (processors and ways of building them), for this reason.

I’m not a big believer in creating solutions and then trying to find problems to match them to.

I get the argument of “If they use your digital likeness in ways to which you’ve not consented, and we catch them, we’ll sue them,” but it has two vulnerabilities. First, for rank-and-file, i.e., non-celebrity, actors who already sometimes aren’t given both copy and credit for their work, and can’t find it when they look for it publicly, that can be a big “if.” Second, it doesn’t account for amalgamation. That is, generative AI can be used like a blender. Imagine…

FacialScan && VoiceMatch(MEDIAN(“HumanActor1”, “HumanActor2”)) = VirtualActor1;

So, a hybrid, digital-only performer, results. Where will metadata ensure that both HumanActor1 and HumanActor2 will always get paid, commensurate with whatever use of VirtualActor1? Also, how will such usage be made to always comply with the rights granted by HumanActor1 and HumanActor2 at an actual technology level? Where is the enforcement apparatus that ensures VirtualActor1 will become a recurring revenue source for everyone without being applied in a way that could negatively impact the human performers’ brands or reputations?

There is no such system. That boils it all down to a matter of trust. When the technology can be used in so many “Who’s gonna know?” ways, that’s a pretty tall order.

In the meantime, actors are now getting asked to audition, and then, if booked, we’re to get only 48 hours’ notice before we work, within which to give informed consent to the application of AI to our performances or vice-versa. That pits us against one another over the issue. It dangles work in front of the performer and then pressures the performer to consent. If they don’t, they risk losing the work to another performer via re-casting at the 11th hour. The performer who then gets released collects no cancellation fee. All of it is a far cry from what should be the protocol:

Per project, disclose intent to use AI within the auditioning process so that actors who don’t want it applied to their performances can choose not to waste their time and decline to audition in the first place!

When DRM got hacked out of the original MP3 format by an anonymous “Information wants to be free” punk in Australia, which wasn’t responded to swiftly and decisively by the global community (Don’t get me wrong: Personally, every Australian I’ve ever met, I’ve always adored and still do), where did that take the music industry? By the time streaming became a thing, the market value of music had gotten driven so far down that the streaming services just capitulated. The argument being, “We can’t stop piracy. At this point, it’s endemic, so we have to treat the value of music as… ‘ephemeral,’ not totally worthless, but more subjective than ever.” They priced themselves so low that the compensations for musicians became so, so much worse than they’d been when the delivery mechanisms were physical media (CDs, CSs, vinyl). As artists saw their livelihoods suffer or get extinguished, to profit as much as possible as the new corporate intermediaries between creators and consumers, they did what they felt they had to.

So now, generative AI is here. Some applications of it can be laudable and miraculous. Others can threaten not just content creators’ livelihoods, but national security. With technologies that behaviorally still aren’t yet fully understood, and aren’t yet fully under control, and can output things that can’t be fully tracked and audited on-demand, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s avoid making the same mistake again, this time a thousand-fold.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand, strictly from an actor’s perspective:

On one hand, Val Kilmer gets his voice back. On the other, generations of performers are now being positioned to choose between landing a given gig and having sustainable careers. In areas otherwise such as residuals, pensions & health, performance capture, and equity & inclusion, real gains have been made, by which I’m impressed and for which I am thankful. Again, props to the negotiating committee on wins realized on all those other fronts. There has been good progress made regarding AI considerations, just not enough. On ratifying the overall new tentative TV/Theatrical agreement, therefore, I’ve voted No.