Should we worry?

So an article in Vanity Fair by Nick Bolton argues that computer technology is going to wipe out Hollywood. Already people are using streaming services and bootleg streaming rather than going to movie theaters (note: “I steal movies because Hollywood didn’t put them out when I wanted” is yet another bullshit argument for piracy. I’ve known restaurants that took forever to bring out my food, but I don’t think that entitles me to snarf from the buffet and walk out without paying), and the trend will only increase. Not only that, computers will eliminate lots of Hollywood jobs. Given a few years they’ll be able to edit, write a screenplay (a crappy one, but lots of movies are crappy), and with CGI maybe dispense with human actors.

These possibilities are not new ideas. Eric Frank Russell’s The Darfsteller has robots replacing human actors, and that was back in 1955. Connie Willis’s 1994 Remake imagined a Hollywood where the movies simply reuse the images of famous stars rather than real actors (you may be old enough to remember a few commercials doing this some years back).

Where I disagreed with those stories was that they assume a 100 percent changeover, and I don’t buy that. There will probably always be directors who’d sooner use real actors than computer effects. I suspect there will always be indie movies that do it the old-fashioned way. In Hollywood itself, Bolton might be right — anyone who’s not an A-list star will simply find no roles available. And rather than pay screenwriters, studios will simply use software programs to churn out mindless bit special-effects action epics. I doubt we’d get anything the caliber of Star Wars IV that way, but eliminating all the people would undoubtedly make it bottom-line attractive to the studios.

So what about print writers? I’ve heard speculation that within a decade or less, it’ll be possible to have a software program write a readable novel. Again, I doubt we’d seen anything truly inspired, but plenty of us like mindless pap (I’ve certainly read my share). It might very well be profitable, and all the profits would go to the publisher. Then again, it’s not like royalties are bankrupting publishers now. And the other costs — laying out the book, printing physical copies, proofreading — would still be there.

If it did happen, whither those of us who are not the A-list (e.g., John Scalzi, JK Rowling)? Even if there’s a market for us, would bottom-line thinking convince publishers to drop everyone who’s not a big gun? Indie publishing is an option if that happens, but what if the publishers simply flood the market with cheap computer-written books? Would that make it too hard to sell our books at a price worth selling for? Or would quality win out (assuming that’s the case)?

I imagine in the coming years we will find out.

Cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with the current holder. #SFWApro

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Filed under Reading, Writing

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