Friday, September 1, 2023

Is AI the new crypto?

This is Joseph

This David Gerard is a very insightful article on AI and the scam associated with it. I think the key is right here:
Anil Dash observes (over on Bluesky, where we can’t link it yet) that venture capital’s playbook for AI is the same one it tried with crypto and Web3 and first used for Uber and Airbnb: break the laws as hard as possible, then build new laws around their exploitation.

The VCs’ actual use case for AI is treating workers badly.

The Writer’s Guild of America, a labor union representing writers for TV and film in the US, is on strike for better pay and conditions. One of the reasons is that studio executives are using the threat of AI against them. Writers think the plan is to get a chatbot to generate a low-quality script, which the writers are then paid less in worse conditions to fix

It really is one of the real issue of regulation that we need to face as a society -- it is always going to be more profitable to be allowed to change the existing rules in a way that allows for extra profit. The deference we give high flying venture capitalists and tech firms really does create a profit opportunity. 

  • If you don't have to follow hotel rules then you can make hospitality cheaper (AirBnB) at the cost of your neighbors
  • If you can see securities without following security laws (BitCOIN) then you can make money with a superior regulatory framework (and I will believe that crypto is currency when it stops inflating in price and becomes a stable store of value)
  • Uber manages to treat drivers as independent contractors despite incredible control over them via the application
The real issue with today's most interesting type of AI (large language models) is that they require huge amounts of input from stuff that is copyrighted but for which the model does not pay out any royalties. I suppose that they could be trained on entirely open source material but that doesn't seem to be the case:

Where does ChatGPT get its data?
ChatGPT’s data comes from a massive dataset that includes a diverse range of sources such as websites, books, news articles, and journals. 

Just like the controversy with AI art in D&D, this mostly seems to be a mix of autocomplete and the ability to indirectly use copyrighted material without attribution or license. 

In any case, this is an interesting perspective and one that I suggest our readers will find quite interesting. It's also going to be a very contentious area of law -- with the most interesting piece being the journalist just assuming that AI will eventually be able to copyright art. Keep in mind that this is a very interesting direction to go -- if I feed in a picture to be tweaked by AI have I just removed copyright? What if the tweaks are imperceptible? 

So I think this intersection between Tech and Intellectual Property Law is an interesting area for our readers to follow. 

P.S. Our editor, Mark, wanted to highlight this article as well


  1. How can ChatGPT be (a) just dumb autocomplete and (b) a threat to jobs? I'm more worried about (b), but the linked article leans on (a). If it's a threat to jobs, then I don't think it's just smoke and mirrors. I guess it could be a threat to some by producing cheap copies of things people might otherwise buy.

    It's not clear, at least as of current court rulings, whether ChatGPT and its ilk have violated any copyright laws. There are a dozen current cases that amount to three basic claims, (1) training infringes copyright, (2) outputs are derivative works, and (3) systems strip out copyright marks. There may be cases about privacy and things like deep fakes coming. There's then the question about who is infringing in cases (2) and (3)---the AI company who built the model or the user who prompts it and then distributes the results? The infringement arguments failed for video recorders because there were non-infringing uses, but succeeded against Napster and music file sharing. The AI companies are most worried about (1). The countervailing consideration they present is that they don't care about the expression of the language (which is what is copyrightable), but only the data or concepts (which are not copyrightable). There's an absolutely fantastic hour long talk on copyright and AI by Pamela Samuelson (where I took the above info), an IP law professor at Berkeley, here: Large language models meet copyright law. She explains the form vs. expression distinction and why it means code is treated differently than other forms of writing (because it's relatively function heavy).

  2. [This is Mark. Blogger is being glitchy again and won't let me sign in.]

    Lots to talk about here (keep watching this space) but here are a couple of important point about VCRs (though I believe it was audio cassettes that set the more important precedents). The law allows for personal use, but selling tapes of copyrighted material is still against the law and those rules are well enforced. (Illegal taping did give us one of the all time great Seinfeld's, but that's not important right now.) If we were limiting ourselves to personal use, I doubt people would be getting this upset (or investing all those billions).

    1. Second. Memorex was providing a system where it was the user who did the inputting and the outputting. When I use ChatGPT, all of the inputting has been done before I sit down. I had nothing to do with the decision to download the archives of the NYT or the novels of Stephen King.

    2. More broadly speaking, laws are written with an eye to what's possible, and when that changes, the law should too. There are a lot of ways to steal IP without technically infringing on copyright but that doesn't make it right, and when new tech makes those types of theft easier, those laws should be revisited.

    3. Also worth noting that even pre-LLM, there were lots of gray areas and lots of aggressive lawyers who stretched IP protection to absurd limits, be it clawing a work back after decades in the public domain (It's a Wonderful Life) or suing a singer for sounding like himself (John Fogerty).

    4. Finally, OpenAI, like Uber, Airbnb, and Tesla, has gained a competitive advantage by bending or breaking the spirit and often the letter of the law even when it doesn't have to just because it can. There is a huge amount of text that is in the public domain and could be used without infringing on anyone's rights or privacy. Of course, it would cost a little more, but a company valued at $27-29 billion could afford it, and you wouldn't be able to get a column written in the style of Maureen Dowd, but I consider that a social good.