The Oscars 2017 Controversy Wouldn’t Have Happened If Robots Had Our Jobs
As the week begins there are two pieces of news that are garnering the most attention. Firstly, there’s the embarrassing, unfortunate but also a bit funny Oscars mix-up in which La La Land was accidentally awarded Best Picture over Moonlight. Secondly, and probably most importantly, the UN has released a report stating that robots will replace two-thirds of all workers in the developing world.
Despite sounding like the premise for Wall-E, artificial intelligence replacing human jobs en masse is a very real problem. Such is the predicted impact of a robotic workforce that some of the tech industry’s greatest minds are already outlining how we can limit the damage, with the likes of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar investing nearly $500,000 into a project to test out a Universal Basic Income, while Stephen Hawking has repeatedly insisted that AI will eventually be the downfall of modern society. So what does this have to do with the Oscars? Well, if the Oscars represents the western world at its most glamorous, fine-tuned and well-oiled, yet we can still fuck up something as trivial as reading a title from an envelope during such an event, then maybe we deserve the robotic uprising we’re headed towards.
The Academy Awards blunder was evidence that, no matter how big the event, sometimes it’s impossible to account for human error. The entire ceremony costs $44 million to produce which, when you consider that it’s just one show that airs one night per year, is a staggering amount. To put it into context, one episode of Game of Thrones costs roughly $6 million, and that show has fucking dragons. The Governors Ball, the official Oscars after party, costs $1.8 million alone, which is over half the cost of an episode of The Walking Dead. In other words there are a lot of people involved in ensuring that the entire event goes off without a hitch, and those people are paid a lot of money in order to do so.
Which brings us to last night’s incident, and the newly infamous image of a distressed Warren Beatty and oblivious Faye Dunaway standing in front of Hollywood’s finest and Casey Affleck, staring at an envelope they didn’t quite understand. Beatty, a man who looked like he was in the process of telling the world’s most poorly timed Dad joke, fiddled around with the red envelope while Dunaway looked on, smiling vacantly. After pulling out the card from inside of it, which reportedly contained Emma Stone’s name rather than Moonlight, Beatty understandably came to the conclusion that, as Emma Stone isn’t a film, she couldn’t have possibly won the Best Picture award.
The audience laughed along, presumably under the impression that Beatty was yanking their collective chains, rather than him being increasingly cognizant that he was about to receive a lot of shit from people on Twitter. He shows Dunaway the card in the hope that she’ll help him out of this mess, but instead she shouts out “La La Land!” before you can see his soul visibly exiting his body from behind his eyes.
— Mashable (@mashable) February 27, 2017
It’s astonishing that this entire debacle was allowed to continue for as long as it did without anyone backstage noticing that there had been a major error. From Beatty shooting a desperate glance over to the crew members after opening the envelope, through to the entire La La Land crew making their way on stage and then partially delivering their acceptance speeches before they were informed they were unwittingly embarrassing themselves, the entire episode lasted for around 7 minutes in total before the film’s producer Jordan Horowitz had to be the one to make the shocking announcement.
That’s right; even though there were clearly Academy Awards employees aimlessly running about in the background, the guy who was just mistakenly given an award and whose blood pressure was therefore likely hitting critical levels had to be the one to rectify the error. He was gracious while doing so, calling for his friends among the Moonlight crew to take to the stage, but you could tell he was pissed. He snatched the real winner’s card from out of Beatty’s hands, who bore the brunt of the mistake despite quite clearly being as confused as anyone else. Beatty then attempted to explain himself while Jimmy Kimmel looked on awkwardly, both men attempting to salvage some dignity from a mistake neither of them were to blame for.
— Variety (@Variety) February 27, 2017
Bringing in C-3PO
The previously mentioned UN report notes that 75% of workers in the developing world will be replaced by robots, but machines are quickly forcing those of us in developed societies out of jobs, too. The manufacturing industry has already been hit hard, with 5.6 million jobs disappearing between 2000 to 2010, with 85% of these losses as a result of “productivity growth” –-another way of saying machines replacing human workers.
Machines are threatening other industries, too, with robots replacing accountants, farmers and even shepherds, allowing companies to shave thousands off their expenses while still ensuring efficiency. Previously many of us had concluded that this was a bad thing, as entire industries firing humans and hiring robots is exactly the kind of thing that can lead to an international jobs crisis, but after watching this Oscars blunder I’m now not so sure.
— PwC US (@PwCUS) February 27, 2017
If, say, C-3PO had been in charge of handling the winners’ envelopes rather than the PwC (who tweeted out an apology, above), I dare say that the error would not have taken place. Though programmed predominantly for etiquette and protocol (which would also serve the Oscars well, given how inoffensive its organizers like the show to be), C-3PO was also adept at assessing the inherent risk involved in problematic scenarios. For instance, in The Empire Strikes Back the droid informs Han Solo that his chances of successfully navigating a perilous asteroid field are “3,720 to 1” — Han does manage to make his way through the asteroids, because if he didn’t everyone would have died and the film would have been over, but the point remains that C-3PO would not have carelessly sent Warren Beatty out with a card with Emma Stone’s name on it because he’d make damn sure he’d given him the correct fucking envelope.
It should also be noted that one of C-3PO’s defining characteristics was his (admittedly often irritating) conversational skills, but while he may have rubbed Han, Luke and Leia up the wrong way on multiple occasions, he probably would have done a better job of outlining the mistake to viewers than Headset Guy here:
Headset Guy can be seen floating around in the background while Jordan Horowitz makes his acceptance speech, and despite him quite clearly having the most knowledge regarding the error of anyone on stage, it’s still down to Horowitz to alert viewers to the mistake. Headset Guy’s basically like “look, I know you’ve just thanked all of your family and friends for an award you haven’t won, but if you think I’m explaining this to all these people then you’ve got another thing coming.”
C-3PO wouldn’t have left a guy hanging like that. He’d have been like: “I’m terribly sorry about all this, but it appears that there has been a grave misunderstanding. Mr. Beatty was handed the incorrect envelope prior to walking on stage with Miss Dunaway, so in reality the winner of this award is Moonlight.” Everyone would have still been annoyed, but at least Horowitz wouldn’t have had to take the fall, and C-3PO would be so polite that people would find it difficult to be annoyed for too long. The ceremony’s organizers could even roll out R2-D2 for added nostalgia to convince viewers that what was happening was actually a good thing, like what Gareth Edwards did in Rogue One.
The Oscars is one of the most tightly managed and extravagant events in the calendar year, attended by the most recognizable people in the western world. If humans are still somehow managing to fuck that up, then it’s no surprise that we’re lurching closer towards our robo-pocalypse. But at least when we are all being replaced by artificial intelligence and our usefulness has been nullified, we’ll be able to watch an Academy Awards ceremony hosted by Johnny 5.