Robots Robots Robots

What is the future of the media industry? Jobs are hard to come by, and it's just getting harder now that the robots are invading.

           When I was in grad school, in a media technology course, the class got into a discussion about the future of different technologies.

My professor prompted: perhaps in an ideal world, we don’t have to work anymore, because the machines would do it for us, when all of our time is leisure time we can spend it enjoying the fruits of the technology.

She was not one to promote vapid consumerism, nor did she think society would be best if we all became sheep who starred at thoughtless technology written tv programs a la Harrison Bergeron. Her prompt begs the question though, one I’ve been asking often in our modern, robotic, AI, economy- what is the ultimate goal of the technological advances that lead to streamlining?

           If you’ve been on Twitter recently, or paid attention to the news you’ve seen that ChatGPT technology has recently become the source of cheating on both the parts of students and professors. Students are generating false reports using the technology, and sometimes professors are using running papers through some version of the technology to check for plagiarism and papers are coming back with false positives causing professors who aren't checking their sources to accuse students of cheating even when they aren't- thus leaving academia in a position to be questioned. First “fake news”, now can we trust leading scholars and academics?

           AI technology is also being used to “create” music, which is on so many levels a type of plagiarism but that won’t stop it from occurring.

Technology of these types are being used to help plan vacations, write resumes, music, college papers, grade those papers, write jokes and scripts…all things are also jobs. Many of these are creative jobs, the jobs that people WANT for the leisure time to both consume and produce. These are not the jobs we want robots taking over. At a time when the WGA is about to go on strike, and all jobs, especially those in the creative realm, are scarce, is this really what society wants our advanced technology doing?

Personally, I’d rather have a robot that takes out the trash or walks my dog while I’m at work. But hey, my job hasn’t been FULLY automated yet so I get to still have one. Many many many people are not that lucky. I’ve spoken ad nauseum about automation changing the TV news/live TV business, and yes; from a managerial perspective there is SOME good that comes from automation and streamlining. There are some costs to be saved, there are repetitive tasks that can be taken over or eliminated, but the goal of all this advancement and automation should not be to completely force out the human element.

           I was watching the new, and final, season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel this weekend, a show I’d point out that if not for the human element of creator/writer Amy Sherman Palladino, would never work. In a scene, Midge stands in the wings of the stage of her new job as a writer at the Gordon Ford show, she watches as Gordon finally, moments before air, chooses the jokes for his opening monologue. The camera pans down to a man on his hands and knees with a big marker and huge white cue cards, he furiously writes the jokes onto the cards as fast as he can in a legible hand. The cue card man is the 1961 version of the teleprompter. Technology has advanced, we no longer have to hand write big cards at the last minute and hope that the writer has good handwriting. Advancement of technology is not the issue, the loss of jobs because of poor use of that technology is. In today’s news/talk show studio the cue card guy is just the teleprompter operator…she still has a job, she can feed her family, pay her bills, and feel fulfilled that she put in a solid day of work.

Because that teleprompter operator still has a job, she can also go home and afford to turn on her own tv to whatever paid streaming service she wants and watch whatever other content someone out there helped create. Maybe while watching she’ll see an ad for a new appliance, after all none of our network overlords are actually in the business of selling content. If automation and bad management make everyone downsize and half (or more) of jobs are lost to poor implementation of advancements---just who is Fox going to sell gun safes to? CBS won’t be able to sell a Toyota if no one can afford one because their jobs were all "streamlined", Amazon won't be able to sell an e-reader or new TV if no one has any money left.

           Companies always say they have to look out for their shareholders, “that’s why we’re cutting back hours,” “we can’t afford to keep you on because we found a robot that does the job very poorly but for a one-time cost so we’re going to replace you with it.” Companies forget that shareholders are simply people with a few extra dollars to invest- so when all the jobs are gone how can anyone be expected to invest, or to buy the products that the “media” companies are ultimately selling? Because make no mistake- Bob Iger does not care if you ever actually watch a Marvel movie, he cares that you buy the product Marvel is selling Disney is selling.

           We need to start reframing the future. We all know that advancement in technology is great, I can hold the entire content of human information in the palm of my hand because of it, but we have to remember that without the human element we’ll all be living in an existential hellscape. So maybe we should start using the robots to break rocks, but not rely on them to write the great American novel.

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