Maybe showing off an AI-generated fake TV episode during a writers’ strike is a bad idea


Image Credits: Fable Studios

The ongoing strike of creatives in TV and film, plus the nascent threat of AI-based writing and effects, make it a complicated time to work in show business. But little savvy is required to see that this may be the worst possible moment to soft-launch an AI that can “write, animate, direct, voice, edit” a whole TV show — and demonstrate it with a whole fake “South Park” episode.

The company behind it, Fable Studios, announced via tweet that it had made public a paper on “Generative TV & Showrunner Agents.” They embedded a full, fake “South Park” episode where Cartman tries to apply deepfake technology to the media industry.

The technology, it should be said, is fairly impressive: Although I wouldn’t say the episode is funny, it does have a beginning, a middle and an end, and distinct characters (including lots of fake celebrity cameos, including fake Meryl Streep). On a GitHub page, the processes that interact to perform this complex task are detailed, with the appropriate examples and diagrams.

But ultimately the whole thing seems monstrous. Cue Jeff Goldblum talking about how just because they could doesn’t mean they should. Especially when half of Hollywood is striking and many of the rest are doing their best not to cross picket lines.

Actual writers, directors, editors, effects workers, and millions of others are warning of the dangers of AI — not that it will destroy life on earth, but that it will be employed as a cost-cutting measure by clueless executives, eliminating livelihoods and reducing creative work to a self-perpetuating algorithmic mess. Is this not Midjourney for TV, with all that implies?

Thousands of authors sign letter urging AI makers to stop stealing books

CEO Edward Saatchi told TechCrunch that he thinks demonstrating this capability is actually good for the labor side of the strike.

We think the timing is correct — we are right in the middle of the biggest strike in 60 years, by releasing the research (but not the ability for anyone to create episodes of protected IP) we hope [for] the Guilds in Hollywood to negotiate strong, strong, strong protections that producers cannot use AI tools without the express permission of artists. Frankly the IP holders also need to figure out how to negotiate with AI chatbot companies who are profiting from their work.

The strike is the moment of maximum leverage to set rules for the coming decades and keep producers from using this tech.

Fable started in 2018 as a spinoff from Facebook’s Oculus (how times have changed since then), working on VR films — a medium that never really took off. Now it has seemingly pivoted to AI, with the stated goal of “getting to AGI — with simulated characters living real daily lives in simulations, and creators training and growing those AIs over time,” Saatchi said.

Simulation is the name of the product they intend to release later this year, which uses an agent-based approach to creating and documenting events for media, inspired by Stanford’s wholesome AI town.

Researchers populated a tiny virtual town with AI (and it was very wholesome)

If you’re confused looking at Simulation’s site, that’s understandable and partly by design. It’s not a real company, and the founding team is all fake, too — not just AI-generated portraits but non-real people. The company history is also invented. If Saatchi hadn’t told me it was all part of the product concept, I would have guessed this was an elaborate hoax (with an NFT play right around the corner).

His approach to media is certainly provocative, if that’s the word, but he is also genuinely a part of the creative community, with a Peabody for the company’s work on Lucy and the Wolves in the Walls. Which is part of what makes this whole situation so perplexing. If you asked around the many people participating in or abiding by the strike (this includes me, incidentally, outside my work as a reporter) what they thought would help their cause, I’m confident that somewhere between zero and none would say “a generative AI that produces entire TV episodes.” Yet that is exactly what Fable decided to pursue and publicize.

“If creative people can get their ideas out and cinema can have an element more like novels or painting where a single person can make a show or movie themselves we could get weirder things than the cookie-cutter studio reboots we often see,” he explained. There’s a certain sense to that, but is the only way forward across the picket line?

Perhaps, because it’s also clear that Saatchi and his team see media production as simply a stepping stone toward a higher goal. “Our focus is not on changing Hollywood — our focus is on getting to AGI,” he wrote.

Whether one, both, or neither is accomplished, Fable certainly has contributed to rocking an already unstable boat. If they don’t get sued into oblivion (the agent was certainly trained extensively on copyrighted data, to say nothing of the fake “South Park” episode), their work may yet be referenced as a notable example of the power and danger of AI.

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares