Netflix released a new season of “Black Mirror” on June 15. If you don’t know the plot of “Black Mirror,” it is a science fiction and dystopian anthology series. Basically, the seasons are short, and each episode is different both plot wise and character wise. One episode in the fifth season is called “Joan is Awful,” and it revolves around Joan, whose life is adapted into a television series starring Salma Hayek.
It becomes a really strange watch (spoiler alert!) because you learn that Salma Hayek has someone playing her, Joan is actually playing another Joan and so on and so forth. It turns out everyone is artificial intelligence except for the original Joan, who we don’t see until the very end of the episode. Confusing right? However, I remember watching and clearly recognizing that it’s a commentary on technology’s impact on society. But I also remember thinking how dramatic it felt. Could a streaming service really trick someone into stealing their image and likeness for profit?
I guess they can.
In Sept. 2023, Meta, run by Mark Zuckerberg, announced that they would be adding chatbots of celebrities to their platforms. This isn’t like ChatGPT talking to people online as if they were a Kardashian. This is Meta paying celebrities $5 million for their image and likeness, even making hyper-realistic Instagram accounts of this AI. This appears harmless—how can an AI celebrity hurt anyone? But, personally, and I doubt I’m alone, I find it an abuse of a powerful technology.
When SAG-AFTRA went on strike, part of their concerns centered on film companies using actors’ images and likenesses and making an AI double. That way, they don’t have to abide by payment and labor laws, and they can make the “actors” do things a human actor may not be able to do. When ChatGPT was released, a big concern was the jobs it could impact, such as engineering, writing, graphic design and others, but some careers, like acting, really were not at risk. The introduction of human AI now poses a risk to an entire industry.
I never saw a big issue with ChatGPT beyond those who would abuse its services. As a writer, I find it really helpful to ask for plot ideas or names for characters. They are harmless things that greatly help my work. I know that there was worry about students using it for plagiarism, but if you’ve ever asked it to write an essay for you, it is so clear that it was written by a computer. And now, there are services that most professors can use to tell if a submitted essay is written by AI. For any negatives that ChatGPT provides, I genuinely think there is a way to use it positively.
However, what benefit comes from a celebrity selling their personality to become a computer? Nothing really. An argument could be that it’s easy human interaction, but there are numerous other AIs, such as Snapchat, that provide that without having a human image and likeness. What this does prove, however, is that AI is easily abused and is progressing too fast.
We’ve seen computers in the movies becoming too smart and taking over the planet. It seems dramatic, but computer experts have expressed that something similar can happen in real life. “This rapid acceleration promises to soon result in ‘artificial general intelligence,’ and when that happens, AI will be able to improve itself with no human intervention,” said researcher of consciousness Tamlyn Hunt.
“It will do this in the same way that, for example, Google’s AlphaZero AI learned how to play chess better than even the very best human or other AI chess players in just nine hours from when it was first turned on.”
Seeing that technology giants like Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak have signed letters asking for AI development to slow down proves that even people who know the most about this industry are concerned about the future of AI. Part of their concerns was that AI can make up false information, and as the technology improves, that ability to create false information will expand into unknown territory. This all ties back to one fear: the loss of control.
I find what Meta is doing with celebrities to be deeply concerning. If they can easily create a realistic image, voice and all, what’s stopping them from doing it to everybody at some point? At least celebrities have what is called NIL protection, which protects them from commercial use of their persona. Every day, so-called normal people don’t have that sort of protection. When Mark Zuckerberg was asked why he created these AI celebrities, he said there’s a “huge need” for AI versions of celebrities. What huge need? To talk to a celebrity you know is fake? To enforce a lack of human communication? Tom Brady’s likeness, named Bru, talks about sports. You can talk to anyone about sports. Artificial intelligence can help the world if we use it correctly. Africa has utilized it to help stop poachers, Denmark has used its voice recognition capabilities to help people in cardiac arrest and Houston utilized AI to help navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. This is what there is a huge need for. Artificial intelligence that can help humanity from destroying itself, not a celebrity you can talk to online.