“Walt Disney Himself Was a Big Believer”: Bob Iger Says Founder Would Have Embraced AI Tech

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Bob Iger and Walt Disney in front of Sleeping Beauty art

Credit: Inside the Magic

Disney CEO Bob Iger has decided to speak for the late Walt Disney and say that the founder of the world’s most iconic entertainment company would have embraced artificial intelligence and new emerging technologies despite the level of chaos they have brought to the industry.

Image of two men: on the left, a modern man in a suit smiling; on the right, a vintage black-and-white photo of a man with a mustache in a patterned suit. Text overlay reads "The Word is n".
Credit: Inside the Magic

Bob Iger, Once and Future CEO

Bob Iger is currently in his second term as the chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company, a position that he stepped down from in 2020 to serve as chairman and consultant to new CEO Bob Chapek.

Reportedly, the transition between the two executives was rocky, and it did not take much persuasion from the board of directors to get Iger to return to lead Disney after Chapek was ousted amid a feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and crashing financials.

Expectations for Bob Iger to turn the company’s fortunes around and return it to global dominance were extremely high, but his second go-around as CEO has not been as smooth as shareholders probably hoped.

Since the executive returned, the company has released enormous box office flops like Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023) and The Marvels (2023), lost billions aggressively pushing the non-profitable Disney+ streaming service, and endured a huge, protracted legal battle with Governor DeSantis that only recently came to a settlement.

A collage of Bob Iger and Ron DeSantis together
Credit: Inside the Magic

Related: CEO Bob Iger Approves Controversial 2024 Disney Parks Expansion

Bob Iger himself faced a huge backlash during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023 after describing striking writers and actors as “disturbing” and “unrealistic” for demanding higher wages and protections against having their images and work unilaterally used as fodder for artificial intelligence. Notoriously, Iger told CNBC’s David Faber:

“It’s very disturbing to me. We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption. I understand any labor organization’s desire to work on behalf of its members to get the most compensation and be compensated fairly based on the value that they deliver. We managed, as an industry, to negotiate a very good deal with the directors guild that reflects the value that the directors contribute to this great business. We wanted to do the same thing with the writers, and we’d like to do the same thing with the actors. There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic. And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

The CEO was widely mocked for calling concerns about monetary compensation and artificial intelligence “unrealistic,” particularly after the grotesque amount of his executive compensation packages were made public amidst constant employee layoffs.

Despite that, Bob Iger is once again defending artificial intelligence and new technologies, this time dragging Walt Disney himself into the mix.

Statue of walt disney holding hands with mickey mouse in front of cinderella castle at disney world, with a clear blue sky background.
Credit: Disney

AI: “Don’t Fixate on Its Ability To Be Disruptive”

Bob Iger recently spoke at the Canva Create showcase at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park and seemed to find it necessary to invoke Walt Disney in his defense of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Variety reports that he “commended Canva for embracing the potential of generative AI tools and other cutting-edge technologies to make high-end visual media design tools readily available to everyday users.”

iatse unveils set of core principles against ai, artificial intelligence
Credit: Canva

Iger is no stranger to bringing up the iconic founder of The Walt Disney Company and the co-creator of Mickey Mouse when it suits him, which has occasionally blown up in his face in the past. This time around, the CEO asserted that Walt himself would have embraced new tech, including the very controversial concept of artificial intelligence in the creative arts.

The Disney CEO said, “Walt Disney himself was a big believer in using technology in the early days to tell better stories. And he thought that technology in the hands of a great storyteller was unbelievably powerful.”

Related: Pirates No More: Disney CEO Bob Iger Announces End of Iconic Attractions, Unveils New Direction

To be fair, Bob Iger is accurate that Walt Disney was a well-known futurist and had a lifelong interest in new technology. Disneyland attractions like Tomorrowland and Autopia and Disney World’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) would not exist without the founder’s eagerness to embrace the new.

A monorail glides along a track in the foreground with the iconic geodesic sphere of epcot's spaceship earth in the background under a clear blue sky.
Credit: Inside the Magic

On the other hand, the current CEO of the company seems to really be pushing the idea that artificial intelligence must be embraced at all costs and that Walt himself would have said so too. If anything, Iger says that there is actually no point in resisting AI, Terminator-style:

“Don’t fixate on its ability to be disruptive — fixate on [tech’s] ability to make us better and tell better stories. Not only better stories, but to reach more people.”

“You’re never going to get in the way of it. There isn’t a generation of human beings that has ever been able to stand the way of technological advancement. What we try to do is embrace the change that technology has created, and use it as the wind behind our backs instead of wind in our faces.”

There is no real way to know if Walt Disney would have been as sure as Bob Iger that artificial intelligence is the inevitable fate of all human technology. But if you ask the CEO, he definitely would.

Do you think Bob Iger should be speaking for the late Walt Disney? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

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