THERE was good news last week for fans of Hollywood films and TV shows when a five-month strike by the Writers Guild of America came to an end. The bad news is that while the writing of scripts has resumed, it’s unclear when unionised actors will be available to deliver the lines.

Yesterday the actors’ union got back around the table with the production companies for the first time in two-and-a-half months. They will be buoyed by the success of their writer colleagues – who achieved what union leaders called an “exceptional deal” – but some are urging caution. The actors have different demands, and face different threats as artificial intelligence improves at an alarming rate.

It was perhaps no coincidence that Tom Hanks chose Sunday to post on his Instagram account about the apparent misuse of AI to create a video using his image. Sharing a still image, the actor wrote: “BEWARE!! There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it.”

Despite numerous news outlets picking up on the post and reporting on it, I haven’t managed to track down the video in question. Based on the screenshot, it appears to feature a heavily airbrushed version of Hanks from at least a decade ago (no offence, Tom). Given he is one of the most recognisable actors in the world, it’s probably safe to say that few people would really be duped into thinking he had recorded this endorsement – or if he had, that it would still be in use in 2023.

I’m not telling you that Tom Hanks faked his own deepfake to prove a point ahead of crucial negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the studio association Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). But it’s not an impossibility, is it?

When the latest series of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror dropped on Netflix in the summer, the writers’ strike had already begun. In the first episode, titled Joan Is Awful, the actress Salma Hayek (played by Salma Hayek) discovers that her likeness is being used in a TV show without her knowing. “She” was playing the lead role despite never having read the script or walked onto the set, because at some point she had unwittingly signed away the full rights to the use of her face, body, voice and name.

Far-fetched? Not according to an article published in Variety a month later, which described extras (or “background actors”) being asked to submit to 3D scanning of their bodies during a shoot. An extra claimed he was told he would not be paid if he did not cooperate, and that the scans would be used for “continuity and special effects”, but that he subsequently felt duped and concerned that he might have helped to make himself redundant. The studios deny any underhand practices, but it’s understandable that performers are anxious.

In the Black Mirror episode Hayek enlists a lawyer to release her from the contract that essentially spells the end of her real-life acting career, only to be told there is nothing to be done. The AMPTP says this is the stuff of fiction, but Variety quotes the small print to which extras from Central Casting, the biggest “background actor” casting company in the United States, and it does appear very broad – referring to “all rights of every kind and nature” and uses “throughout the universe in perpetuity in all media whether now known or hereafter devised.”

SAG-AFTRA has a broad membership including actors, dancers, singers, DJs, puppeteers, stunt performers and voiceover artists. Its members are not necessarily opposed to the use of AI – for example, to produce even more impressive stunt sequences, or to match screen actors’ lips with the words of those who dub films into different languages – but they fear studios might go a step further by getting rid of humans altogether.

Beyond Hollywood, dubbing artists from around the world have been joining a “Don’t Steal Our Voices” campaign, calling for laws against the use of their voices without consent – including for the “teaching” of the AI platforms that might eventually replace them. But will it be possible to prove that one’s voice, or image, or art, or ideas, has informed AI, and if so will there be any legal recourse? Yesterday was an “AI Day of Action”, with calls for the US Congress to “ban large corporations from getting copyrights on art made with AI”, but it seems to have gained little traction. The tech is sprinting ahead of the law.

Tom Hanks was being too modest when, in May, he told podcaster Adam Buxton that if he “starred” in films beyond the grave via the use of AI there would be no way to tell that it wasn’t really him. Challenged on this, he changed his tune and posed a depressing question: “Without a doubt, people will be able to tell. But the question is will they care?”

Audiences might feel short-changed by an AI leading man, but perhaps less so by an AI-generated crowd scene or stunt. Will we, as viewers, even be entitled to know how the movies and TV shows we watch have been made? The next few weeks could have huge implications for what we see on screen in the years to come.