FX’s ‘Class of ’09’ Creators Aren’t Pressing the ‘Panic Button’ on AI Just Yet

Richard Ducree/FX

As the WGA strike continues to unfold, one of the key issues at its center has to do with artificial intelligence. While AI may be a relatively new concern for many in Hollywood, it’s old hat to Tom Rob Smith and Joe Robert Cole, two of the executive producers behind FX’s upcoming drama “Class of ’09.” Though their new series examines the dangers of law enforcement relying too heavily on AI, Smith isn’t concerned that AI in its modern form will fully replace writers.

“I’m less worried than other people are right now on the story creation, but I could be just naive about that right now,” Smith, who previously served as an executive producer and writer for “The Assassination of Gianna Versace: American Crime Story,” told TheWrap.

“I asked AI to write lots of fairy tales for me, and I read them. They were not good,” he continued.

It was clear the program had copied and pasted elements from other fairy tales. But ultimately what was missing in these stories was what Smith referred to as “the leap” — the moment when a piece of art that’s clearly drawing from other influences suddenly goes in an unexpected direction. “When I see that then I will press the panic button,” Smith said.

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While Cole, best known for co-writing “Black Panther” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” agreed that AI is currently unable to “go off in some odd direction” like a human writer, he was warier than his co-executive producer.

“Where I think it is a very important point of concern for writers is when it comes to IP material or some stories that are four quadrant, very simple kind of narratives,” Cole said. “All of a sudden — you’re thinking five or 10 years from now — those projects are all being put together by a computer, and the craft of being a writer becomes unsustainable. I think that’s the concern.”

Cole likened the fears around AI to how the internet and streaming changed the industry after the 2007 writers’ strike. “All this technology is all advancing very, very quickly,” Cole said. “I agree with Tom. I’m not as concerned about the sophisticated, nuanced human story being written by [AI]. But there are outliers. There are lots of things that would have a detrimental effect on the sustainability of the careers of writers.”

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Created by Smith, “Class of ’09” follows the lives of several FBI agents across three different timelines. Through this interweaving format, it explores how the decisions these recruits made decades ago eventually leads to a reality where punishing people for imagined crimes is the norm thanks to AI. Instead of law and order, the U.S. criminal justice system comes to resemble something out of Orwell’s “1989.”

“We show the limits of the artificial intelligence versus our characters actual lived human emotional intelligence,” executive producer Jessica Levin told TheWrap.

Starring Kate Mara (“The Martian”), Brian Tyree Henry (“Atlanta”), Sepideh Moafi (“Black Bird”), Raúl Castillo (“We the Animals”) and Brian J. Smith (“Sense8”), “Class of ’09” is one of the final shows that was created for the short-lived FX on Hulu. The FX miniseries will premiere on Hulu May 10.

For all of TheWrap’s WGA strike coverage, click here.

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