Congressman Ro Khanna Speaks In Solidarity With Striking Writers On Picket Line, Addresses Rise Of AI: “ChatGPT Is Not Going To Produce ‘Hamlet’ ”

As striking writers gathered Wednesday afternoon outside Netflix’s Manhattan headquarters, they were greeted by a visitor from what might be considered enemy territory: U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a Democratic congressman whose 17th district sits in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. 

Khanna, here as an ally, gave a rousing speech through a bullhorn to demonstrators as their protest got underway on the second day of the WGA strike. “Many of us in Congress will be standing with you in your just fight,” he said to cheers.

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Before then, Khanna spoke with Deadline about the disruptions caused by technologies, such as streaming and artificial intelligence, that have emerged from the computational laboratories in his home district.

“Writers are the heart and soul of the entertainment that we watch,” he said, adding that the models for compensating them “have changed because of the technology in my district in Silicon Valley.

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“And that means that writers need to be paid fairly in the new streaming model,” Khanna said, “and they need to have a seat at the table to figure out how AI is going to work. And given that I represent Silicon Valley that is producing this technology change. I want to stand in solidarity with writers.”

RELATED: Deadline’s Full Strike Coverage

AI platforms are increasingly capable of spitting out screenplays, pop songs and video — or simulations of them, depending on one’s viewpoint  — with just a few user prompts in ways that have striking writers unnerved. Managing AI is one of the issues in the lapsed contract talks between writers and studios.

Khanna sounded confident that AI’s output won’t ever be confused with civilization’s great works, but less certain that audiences won’t someday find themselves watching or reading culture produced by software.

“ChatGPT is not going to produce Hamlet,” Khanna said, referencing the OpenAI information engine that can churns out conversations, essays and more in seconds with just a prompt. “And it’s not going to produce Yeats. The human imagination, the human capacity for suffering, the human capacity to understand historical context is still required for great writing. 

“What it will mean for a society to rely simply on AI is the coarsening of thinking, the cheapening of art,” he said. “And that would be sad for us as a civilization. So we need writers to have the best thinking, to have the best art. They make contributions to humanity. And it is naïve to think that AI can replicate that in the ways that we would want to celebrate.”

Striking writers picketed for a second day in New York, after protesting outside Peacock’s NewFronts presentation the day before. The WGA East plans to picket at Broadway Stages in Brooklyn and Silvercup Studios in Queens on Thursday.

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