Artificial intelligence, once relegated to the realm of science fiction’s most pernicious plot devices (“Open the pod bay doors, HAL”), is now more science fact than fantasy. With the ongoing aid of its human proponents, AI is becoming increasingly intuitive and agile, inching ever closer to potential sentience. With myriad applications — from medical research to marketing strategy to sex robots — AI has already made inroads into pretty much every imaginable human endeavor. Writer and producer Mike Fleiss fears the AI invasion, like an all-too-chilling real-life episode of The Twilight Zone, may be tolling the death knell for true creativity in Hollywood — and beyond.
As of this writing, members of the Writer’s Guild of America, one of the seminal creative forces behind the U.S. film and television industry, are on strike. Productions are on hiatus, new shows are on hold, and picket lines dot the Los Angeles landscape. The future of AI is one of the biggest chips on the bargaining table.
Whether or not the union will be able to hammer out a clause limiting AI’s incursion remains to be seen, but like it or not, artificial intelligence is here to stay. That said, while it may initially be checked off as a cheaper line item budgetwise, in the bigger picture, Mike Fleiss believes reliance on AI will come at a cost that, though difficult to quantify, will be enormous nonetheless.
Mike Fleiss: The AI Juggernaut from a Journalist’s Perspective
Before turning to television, Mike Fleiss had a newspaper career. Educated as a sportswriter at the University of California at Berkeley, Fleiss received a firm foundation in journalistic principles. Back in newspapers’ heyday, good writing mattered. The finest news scribes — from reporter H.L. Mencken to columnist Joan Didion to sportswriter Red Smith — were gifted storytellers who understood how powerful prose could grab an audience’s attention, not merely to inform them, but to entertain, uplift, and enlighten. It was a tradition Mike Fleiss sought to emulate. “I tried to write with color and flair and a sense of humor,” he says.
While Fleiss strove for the evocative, other sports writers he knew were just “nuts-and-boltsy.” They’d relate the basics of how the game went, report who the winning pitcher was, “and blah, blah, blah,” Fleiss says, adding ruefully, “AI is going to be completely capable of doing that kind of writing.”
Fleiss recalls that one of his most influential mentors at Berkeley, Professor Hubert Dreyfus, was an early critic of artificial intelligence. “He always contended … for very philosophical and biological reasons … [AI was] never going to be able to do what a human being could do,” Fleiss remembers, “but they could achieve mediocrity as a simulation.”
Will the Rise of AI Be Proportional to the Dumbing Down of Society?
One of the most troubling trends Mike Fleiss is seeing as AI becomes the new normal is how it’s seemingly removed the motivation to excel. “[We’re] now in a world where people don’t accept excellence, they don’t even recognize excellence, in filmmaking or television or journalism,” he notes. “Mediocrity is the new excellence, [and] AI is totally geared up for that.”
As an example, Fleiss extrapolates that he could plug several hundred old TV series scripts he’d written into an AI generator, then simply swap one major variable — say, adding a new featured cast member — and rest assured, AI would crank out a brand-new script at the tap of a cursor, albeit minus the human component of creativity. “It wouldn’t be exactly how I would have done it … but [AI is] never going to have genius in it; it’s never going to have brilliance,” he asserts. “It’s always going to be … mediocrity — but people seem to be OK with that now.”
Fleiss sees the looming new less-than-stellar status quo as a huge red flag. “[AI is] never going to be the transcendent stuff that makes a difference in people’s lives,” he warns. “It’s going to be this dumbed-down version of what everything is becoming.” And he fears the eventual cost of AI may be human creativity itself — because in a world where mediocrity is the standard by which we measure all things, genius dies.