“Groundbreaking” AI that scans actors’ digital likenesses resembles Black Mirror episode

Meera Jacka
Groundbreaking AI that scans actors’ digital likenesses resembles Black Mirror episode

A new AI proposal includes scanning actors for their digital likeness, a notion previously explored in an episode of Black Mirror’s latest season.

Two of Hollywood’s big three labor unions are on strike following failed negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland announced the board had unanimously voted to go on strike following the AMPTP’s refusal “to offer a fair deal on key issues essential to protecting the livelihoods of working actors and performers.”

The AMPTP has since issued a statement claiming they presented the guild with an offer “with the goal of forging a new, mutually beneficial contract”. However, one particular part of this offer sounds a little too similar to one of Black Mirror’s latest episodes…

Joan is Awful
Hollywood studios’ new proposal sounds like it belongs in a Black Mirror episode.

The component of the Producers’ offer in question discusses “a groundbreaking AI proposal which protects performers’ digital likenesses, including a requirement for performer’s consent for the creation and use of digital replicas or for digital alterations of a performance.”

However, Crabtree-Ireland was evidently not impressed, alleging that the “groundbreaking” AI proposal would see companies claim the rights to a background performer’s image for only one day’s pay.

Speaking on the offer, he said it stated “Their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation. So if you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”

AMPTP spokesperson Scott Rowe has denied these allegations, saying “The current AMPTP proposal only permits a company to use the digital replica of a background actor in the motion picture for which the background actor is employed. Any other use requires the background actor’s consent and bargaining for the use, subject to a minimum payment.”

However, it is hard not to see the similarities between the offer and Black Mirror’s Joan is Awful. The latest season’s debut episode follows Joan, a manager at the media company Streamberry — the universe’s equivalent of Netflix.

Joan discovers that Streamberry has replicated her life and likeness for a new TV show due to her agreeing to the job’s terms and service. As well as this, the actress playing her — Salma Hayek — isn’t actually Hayek but her image, which was licensed to the company to use as seen fit.

While Black Mirror is known to use technology and media in dystopian settings to comment on current social issues, Joan is Awful is starting to feel a little too real.

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