Netflix's Ted Sarandos tells Rob Lowe AI ‘is no shortcut for the human experience’

Sarandos spoke with Lowe on his podcast about the technology following last year’s Hollywood strikes

Netflix chief Ted Sarandos does not see artificial intelligence (AI) as an "existential" threat to creativity, but a powerful tool.

Sarandos recently spoke with Rob Lowe on his podcast "Literally! with Rob Lowe" about AI in the wake of the actors and writers strikes last year and its looming impact on the entertainment industry.

"The sense that AI was going to be the next existential thing, I don’t know if that’s true. I still don’t know if that’s true," Sarandos said. "But I do know that we need to have conversations about these things well in advance of a contract renewal."

The use of AI divided Hollywood last year during the actors' and writers' strikes, before they settled on new contracts, with rampant fear the technology would replace human creatives.

Close up of Ted Sarandos

Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said he was not sure if AI was "the next existential thing" but he wants more conversations about it ahead of the next contract negotiations in Hollywood. (Lionel Hahn/Getty Images / Getty Images)

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While the unions got several AI regulations in place, Lowe asked Sarandos if he thought the issue had essentially been "punted" to the next round of negotiations in a few years. 

"I think that AI is a creator's tool, not a creative tool," Sarandos said. "And I think that the creators who learn to use these tools better than everyone else are gonna win…not companies who create, but people who create."

He continued, focusing on the importance of human experience in creating stories.

"Your performance is based on your life experiences and your ability to tap into them. Like I said earlier, about data being really good about being repetitive…it’s not about creating surprises, and I do think it takes human experience to do things like performance and creative ideas, and new takes on things, and those things are all influenced by life experiences," he explained.

Ted Sarandos and Rob Lowe posing together

Ted Sarandos, left, spoke with Rob Lowe on his podcast, saying he thinks "AI is a creator's tool, not a creative tool." (?Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic / Getty Images)

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"It’s feasible that AI can replicate or imitate those things, but there’s something about the authenticity and the reality of human experience that people see, and they can also see when it’s inauthentic," he added.

Sarandos pointed to "Squid Game," the breakaway hit on Netflix in 2021, pulling in 1.656 billion hours of viewing in the first 28 days of its release, with 142 million member households tuning in for at least two minutes of the show, per Variety.

"The reason why ‘Squid Game’ worked was because it wasn’t engineered to be a global show that people liked around the world, it was a super uniquely authentic Korean show, that people recognized the authenticity of," Sarandos said. 

He added, "I think that people will try to use AI to do shortcuts for the human experience, and the truth is, there is no shortcut for the human experience."

Ted Sarandos and Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae posing together on the red carpet

Ted Sarandos, left, said the appeal of "Squid Game" was because it was "authentic" not engineered for broad appeal. (harley Gallay/Getty Images for Netflix / Getty Images)

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Lowe noted that AI is trained on what has already existed, and therefore is not capable yet of surprise.

"When I say we’re all in this together, it would not be good for the business to have movies and films spit out of an AI. The relationship with that programming, with those stories, will not be intense, will not be personal, will not make you cry at night," Sarandos said in response.

Lowe also asked about the near future idea of people being able to create their own custom movies and TV shows by entering prompts into an AI program.

Sarandos said, "I think there’ll be some versions of this," but asked, "Will you do that instead of being told a story? 

"I mean, in the history of humankind, we tell each other stories and there’s something very innate about it," he added. "To me, it’s like, I worried for a while at the beginning of social media creation, will the next generation of kids watch things that they’re not in? Must they be in the next movie or they won’t watch it? I think, actually, there is a role, a very important human role for storytelling, and being a passive listener of a story."

Ted Sarandos posing on the red carpet

Ted Sarandos told Rob Lowe he did not think it would be "good for the business to have movies and films spit out of an AI." (Kayla Oaddams/WireImage / Getty Images)

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"I think people look at these things like it’s going to be replacing storytelling. It’s not. It’s going to enhance storytelling," he said.

The Netflix chief did agree that there will likely be "a new visual language down the road" but discouraged people from being afraid of AI.

"If you think of all the tools that seem creepy that we use every day now…It’s kind of the next evolution of computing, so it’s going to impact our lives in a bunch of different ways. So we can’t regulate our way out of it."

Lowe agreed, "it’s adapt or die" when it comes to technology, while admitting he was still "anxious" about what it all means.  

Ted Sarandos smiling on the red carpet

Ted Sarandos does see AI as "the next evolution of computing." (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images / Getty Images)

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"The West Wing" star added that he thought creativity with a human touch would still be appreciated and have a "premium" element to it, and Sarandos agreed.

"They [people] want to be surprised," he said.

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