AI and Capitalism
Owning Our Future for Perpetuity
I saw the new Fast & Furious, Indiana Jones, Mission Impossible, and Little Mermaid movies trending on social media, and what many fail to realize is that these trends are deeply intertwined with the advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and the ongoing Writers' Guild labor strike. Major corporations already own the intellectual property (IP) of these productions. AI technology will allow them to create, control, and own crucial aspects of production, such as the plot, casting, art direction, and even the likeness of performers. Previously unimagined parts of production will now be under their absolute control and ownership. They will own more of the creative process.
They don't need AI to write the whole script, only the story and outline, reducing the ownership and influence of human writers, which means less compensation. It's not simply about the worker owning less of their work; it's also about the human worker doing less of the highly paid work. If human workers only execute, you need fewer workers with less pay.
For actors, what's the relevance of auditions if AI decides the casting? Furthermore, the industry now possesses the ability to generate deep fakes, retaining ownership of performers' likenesses indefinitely. Love or hate the new Ariel? Disney will own Halle Bailey's likeness and keep using it long after she's dead. Actors are already discovering how their likeness can be used in ways they didn't imagine or consent to, which often also means without compensation. They might not own the physical you, but they own the representation of you. You will be their immortal performer. Your future descendants will keep seeing and hearing you.
Traditionally known as "studios," these companies have evolved into colossal tech and media conglomerates, blurring the lines between creative expression, news, information, entertainment, and technological control.
Similar to McDonald's owning and controlling every step of the burger production process, these tech/media companies are creating what can be called "McMovies." They exercise complete ownership and control over every aspect of production, manufacturing assembly-line movies of the same properties in the same universes with the same formulas and messages over and over again.
The Impact of AI-Assisted Editing
Love a particular performance? It's increasingly difficult to know how much credit should be given to the performer. More and more of what we admire in a performance is pieced together through AI-assisted editing. A performer can read a cue card, and the editor can correct where the performer is looking or even their facial expressions and what they're saying. Corrections like these are especially easy to implement in visual effects-driven movies where the hyperreal is expected, and quick cuts and split screens are no longer jarring. How much of what everyone loved about the performances in Everything Everywhere All at Once was actually the editing? We're already trained to find seamlessness in the incongruous, just as Photoshop has desensitized us to the uncanny valley of perfect images.
AI and Ownership: A Parallel with NFTs
Remember when people ridiculed the concept of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) due to their use of technology to establish ownership over intangible assets and also for their massive energy consumption? That's also AI, but with even more widespread adoption, which means even more energy costs and even more ownership of intangible assets, except these are the ones people actually care about.
We find ourselves at a critical juncture where we must question the notion of representation. Are CGI-rendered and digitally augmented characters from preexisting property owned and controlled primarily by white people that gatekeep and deny original stories from creators of color a true reflection of diversity and inclusivity? Is CGI representation? Are old white properties that are still owned by white people that financially benefit mostly white people representation?
I don't even remember the last time I saw a non-CGIed Zoe Saldana. Especially in the McDisney and McMarvel McUniverses, representation is more of an idea where CGI represents the idea of an actual person. Even the sets are not real, they're digital assets. Everything is an asset, including the people. Everything everywhere all at once is owned by these massive corporations.
The Power Dynamics of Capitalism and AI
AI is not only coming to the entertainment industry; it's also coming to your work. AI doesn't get sick, doesn't die, doesn't tire, doesn't unionize, doesn't strike, and doesn't own anything. Instead, its owners own everything. The relentless pursuit of ownership is capitalism, turning the world into capital to own. This symbiosis between capitalism and AI is a marriage of convenience for capitalists because it allows them to own more stuff and accumulate even more wealth, even though AI only steals from the work of actual people. But none of this is illegal. Since it's being done by AI, capitalists have found a new way to dispossess workers of their work.
The Lack of Legal Safeguards
We lack adequate legal protections, while corporations have ample legal rights (and tax exemptions). Why does every wealthy individual seek to incorporate? It gives them more rights and privileges than they already had as a rich person. But now they have an energy-intensive AI army at their disposal. Capitalism already owns our past and present; now it'll own our future for perpetuity.
This issue is not solely about AI but rather the perpetuation of capitalism itself. It consistently "innovates" new ways to own our stuff. Capitalism's dominion has already extended to encompass water, air, and even the very building blocks of life, DNA. Capitalism is built on owning people while dispossessing them of their property. This is its history and essence.
The US as the Catalyst
Unsurprisingly, the United States serves as the epicenter for these capitalist technological "disruptions." It's where techno-feudalism can raise the most money, gain the most adoption, with the least regulation. This combination fuels the rapid advancement and implementation of this technology within the entertainment industry and every other major US industry, setting the stage for global repercussions.
As AI continues to reshape the entertainment industry and redefine the nature of work, the underlying force at play is ultimately capitalism. The intertwining of technology, globalism, and capitalism empowers US corporations to exert control and ownership over creative works and individuals alike. The absence of adequate legal protections, coupled with the lack of US government initiatives to safeguard people, highlights the urgency for action. In the face of rapidly evolving technologies and capitalist forces, the ongoing Writers' Guild labor strike represents just the beginning of a larger struggle for worker and human rights protection. There are many more fights to come, and since we aren't all-powerful CGI characters who have to be around for the next series of McMovies, the stakes are existential.
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