Artificial intelligence has been a hot topic of late, for reasons as often worrying as positive. But for Indiana Jones actor John Rhys-Davies, the issue is more than just an abstract debate: it’s an existential threat to his career and all of ours.
“They did a survey on 327 researchers who recently did a paper on artificial intelligence,” Rhys-Davies told audience members at a Q&A panel at October’s MCM Comic Con in London. “More than one-third of these people believed that AI decisions could cause a catastrophe as bad as all-out nuclear war in this country… But the real catastrophe is that they will probably so dislocate our society, artificial intelligence is going to take away 20-50% of jobs in the next 12 years. And we are not prepared for that. We are not thinking about it. And we should start having these debates now.”
Artificial intelligence and computer learning have been prominent in the news in recent months, especially where the entertainment industry is concerned. One of the ongoing disputes at the center of the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike is movie and TV studios’ use of AI programs in place of human writers (similar conversations have taken place in the ongoing negotiations with unions representing actors and directors). Recently, Warner Bros. announced a new partnership with the firm Cynelitic that would use AI algorithms to make decisions about what film and TV projects should be pursued by the studio.
So it is perhaps no surprise that Rhys-Davies was especially concerned when it came to his own professional future in the face of machine replacement.
“I’m already digitized,” he told the MCM audience. “Very soon when I’m dead, unscrupulous studios will make a John Rhys-Davies ‘type’ who will be able to sort-of use John Rhys-Davies’ vocabulary. We can replay his voice, and then you’ll have a John Rhys-Davies that they don’t have to pay for, which is always a good thing as far as the business is concerned.”
While Rhys-Davies is best known for his film and stage roles, which include memorable appearances as Sallah in the Indiana Jones films (which he revisited in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny) and as Gimli in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the British actor has a long history of political and social opinions which might fairly be described as incendiary. Once a student radical in the '69s, he became an outspoken Thatcherite conservative by the '80s, and sparked controversy in 2020 when he decried the rate of Muslim immigration into the European Union. Indeed, even over the course of the MCM panel, Rhys-Davies comments about AI sometimes veered from wary to almost laudatory, at one point calling it “my Immortality Project.”
“We now have enough computer storage space and enough computer power to begin to collect all the things that a man or a woman has ever said in their lifetime,” the performer continued later in the same event. “So what I anticipate – and this will touch a nerve with those of you who have lost a father or a mother recently – wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could walk into a room, and press a button on, and the [computer-generated] figure would say, ‘Hello. How lovely to see you. Bring me up to date with you, because there’s not much conversation here.’”
Despite the topicality of Rhys-Davies’ comments, which he delivered as a preamble at the start of his question and answer event, the actor was nevertheless forced to concede that he may have tried the patience of audience members hoping to hear him reminisce about his notable movie roles. Looking at audience members filing out of the auditorium, he wryly deadpanned, “Oh, I’ve managed to bore some people already.”
Watch this and many other panels from October 2022's MCM Comic Con.