AI and the Invisible Humans

Written by: Constance Carlisle


At a recent virtual get together, the fill-in host asked for comments on AI.
Was anyone using it? What was their experience? What was everyone’s opinion? Ultimately, this question led me to think about AI and the invisible humans.

After just a few comments, I realized that AI had become the new bright and shiny object. These people were smart, kind and interested in a new technology that can enhance their job efficiency.

This conversation happened just when the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Replacing writers with AI generated content was one of the main issues. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are still on strike and in negotiations. One big issue is the studios want to scan actor’s images to use them whenever they want.

Before this conversation, at least for me, AI had been a distant technology that I’d identified mostly with movies and television. The Terminator. And for any Agents of Shields fan, Mac’s reference to 80’s movies while undergoing Aida’s assault has become classic. (Side note: Agents of Shield is cannon, no matter what the Marvel “powers that be” say.) Aida was a life model decoy. Her name was an acronym for Artificial Intelligent Digital Assistant. Originally, Aida was created to protect humans. It didn’t go well.

Creative Magic and the Human Voices

When producing my first documentary short, I worked with an old-school, extremely gifted, and experienced videographer. He told me about the paper cut. When preparing for my first edit session, I literally sat on the floor with my very marked up interview transcripts and all my logged b-roll. I marked up the transcripts. And I logged every minute of the b-roll. That preparation took many hours.  But having lived in the content all those hours was when the creative magic began.

Sitting on the floor in my living room, I literally cut each sound bite and taped them together. Those voices spoke to me. Each voice told me who and what soundbite was next and what b-roll should go with it. I listened.

I wound up with a messy 30 something page paper cut. When I handed the photo copy of my preciously taped together script, the editor took it with a puzzled expression. “What is this”? I responded, “It’s a paper cut.”

He later explained that he was used to agency producers dropping off a pile of transcripts and b-roll logs with suggestions for the edit. So, they basically let him put together the rough cut for the project.

After hearing that, I’d hoped I made my videographer and mentor proud. My owning that footage from start to finish was an important lesson he taught me.
I was the producer. That footage was my responsibility until the project was done.

Now think about what that scenario looks like with an AI app involved anywhere in that creative process. The resulting loss of human interaction with the content. The final edit would have looked very different.

A human soul was interacting with other human souls through their interviews. And another human soul behind that video camera, how he framed the shot, configured the lighting, miked us all. Managed the quality of the audio.  
AI may be able to learn. But can it feel the experience of all those creative interactions?

The Creative is about Humans Listening

Why go back in time to my first experience creating a documentary short? Because it matters. That human creative experience with heart and passion living in the content. Listening to the interviews, seeing the faces of humans talking about their experiences is what gave the project life. The interchange of energy, content and human being is not replaceable. As Clark Gregg said from the picket line, “We’re fighting to keep the soul in the art form.”

Implementing AI in such a process may save some time. But AI’s collective of scraped content will never match my or any individual passion for that content. And with AI involved, that magical creative process would not exist. AI may learn, but can it listen?

AI and the Invisible Humans

Speaking of “it.” Here is a reminder that AI is not an “it.” AI is a “they.” AI is people training AI machines with scraped content off the internet. Who chooses the content?  And did they let us know before they started? Are they scraping our original thoughts, blogs, research, and whatever original content they can access? And when did we give our conscious permission for them to use our content?

So many questions. After that virtual meeting, I did a quick search. I found this excellent Rolling Stone article on women warning about AI (opens in a new window). I’d suggest reading this article for critical perspective.

Another article that got my attention was in TIME. For a creative perspective, read this article, I’m a Screenwriter. These AI Jokes Give Me Nightmares (opens in a new window).

In my college writing courses, citing sources was drilled into me. And I had to write papers from research and still come up with my own original writing voice, while citing those research papers throughout the process. That process of respect continued working in publishing and video production. Copyright of content meant everything.

Who is citing the sources in AI? How do we know that AI content is valid?
Or true? And if you use an AI app, is all your work being scraped for someone else to come along and use it? Who is profiting from our content? Who is getting left out?

I think about AI and all the invisible humans inside and outside of the AI collective. Did they choose to be there? Or did they choose to be left out? Who chooses the voices from which AI learns?

When asked directly about my view on AI in that virtual meeting, I said something about kicking and screaming the whole way. I also said that I would take a human being over AI every time.

Featured Image by: Steve Johnson on Unsplash

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