Please see the disclaimer.
Assumed Audience: Everyone, but especially software developers and other tech-savvy people. However, don’t post this to Hacker News (I’ve already said this stuff on comments there) nor on lobste.rs.
Epistemic Status: Confident.
A couple days ago, there was a story on Hacker News about a programmer who saw GitHub’s Copilot spitting out his code with no regards to its license, the LGPL. Naturally, there was a lot of discussion about it.
But I’m not a hypocrite. I hate other “AI’s” too, like Stable Diffusion, DALL-E, and Midjourney.
So I joined the conversation to make my ire known.
And in one of those rare instances where anger channeled well, I said some things that I liked. So here’s a blog post with them!
Some of these will be direct quotes of comments I made on Hacker News.
Types of Inputs to the Creative Process
Are machines and humans equally creative?
I argue not, for a plethora of reasons, but the first is that machines don’t have as many types of inputs to their creative process.
I’m not sure sure that originality is that different between a human and a neural network. That is to say that what a human artist is doing has always involved a lot of mixing of existing creations.
I disagree, but this is a debate worth having.
This is why I disagree: humans don’t copy just copyrighted material.
I am in the middle of developing and writing a romance short story. Why? Because my writing has a glaring weakness: characters, and romance stands or falls on characters. It’s a good exercise to strengthen that weakness.
Anyway, both of the two people in the (eventual) couple developed from my real life, and not from any copyrighted material. For instance, the man will basically be a less autistic and less selfish version of myself. The woman will basically be the kind of person that annoys me the most in real life: bright, bubbly, always touching people, etc.
There is no copyrighted material I am getting these characters from.
In addition, their situation is not typical of such stories, but it does have connections to my life. They will (eventually) end up in a ballroom dance competition. Why that? So the male character hates it. I hate ballroom dance ever since a time when, during a three-week ballroom dancing course in 6th grade, the girls made me hate ballroom dancing. I won’t say how, but they did.
That’s the difference between humans and machines: machines can only copyright and mix other copyrightable material; humans can copy real life. In other words, machines can only copy a representation; humans can copy the real thing.
That’s one type of input to the creative process that machines don’t have.
Oh, and the other difference is emotion. I’ve heard that people without the emotional center of their brains can take six hours to choose between blue and black pens. There is something about emotions that drives decision-making, and it’s decision-making that drives art.
When you consider that brain chemistry, which is a function of genetics and previous choices, is a big part of emotions, then it’s obvious that those two things, genetics and previous choices, are also inputs to the creative process. Machines don’t have those inputs.
In short, machines cannot be as creative as humans because their creative “functions” have less types of input.
AI Centralizes Control
Someone mentioned that Stable Diffusion is better than other forms of AI because anyone can use it.
This is wrong; SD is better than the other two, but it will still centralize control.
I imagine that Disney would take issue with SD if material that Disney owned the copyright to was used in SD. They would sue. SD would have to be taken off the market.
Thus, Disney has the power to ensure that their copyrighted material remains protected from outside interests, and they can still create unique things that bring in audiences.
Any small-time artist that produces something unique will find their material eaten up by SD in time, and then, because of the sheer number of people using SD, that original material will soon have companions that are like it because they are based on it in some form. Then, the original won’t be as unique.
Anyone using SD will not, by definition, be creating anything unique.
And when it comes to art, music, photography, and movies, uniqueness is the best selling point; once something is not unique, it becomes worth less because something like it could be gotten somewhere else.
SD still has the power to devalue original work; it just gives normal people that power on top of giving it to the big companies, while the original works of big companies remain safe because of their armies of lawyers.
Someone asked me why having AI would be any different from now; after all, Disney already has its army of lawyers while artists can only fight a few, if any at all.
It’s a good point, but there is one thing that makes it different: scale.
Yes, the sheer scale is what makes it worse.
If there are only a few violations, a small time artist can fight. Hundreds and thousands of copies, or millions, and even Disney struggles. That’s why Disney would go after the model itself; it scales better.
But small-time artists don’t have the resources to go after corporate-backed models and will find themselves pushed out of the market by a flood enabled by scale.
Difference Between AI and Other Tech
There were a few people that claimed that AI was just like cars: they would be useful to regular people.
This is obviously false, for a few reasons.
First, this is a world where art, code, videos, music, and just about every kind of creative thing, can be endlessly copied. Thus, an art product will naturally have to compete with the entire world’s worth of art.
Second, creative products mostly either have no intrinsic value, or they only have entertainment value.
With the exception of code, which can be utilitarian.
This means that the average value of such creative products to an economy is far lower than other things. If I make a doorknob, that will always have value. Creative products will not.
Third, following from the second, an economy can never be based on creative products because they don’t have good value. This means that fewer creative products will succeed, meaning that fewer people can create them.
This is different from cars because anyone can get a car and do something with it, from driving people, delivering groceries, creating a mobile car detailing business (actual thing I saw the other day), etc.
It’s hard to create a business from one creative product. Unless it’s software, and that’s because, like a car, software does something.
Difference Between AI and Other Art Tools
And then there was the person that claimed AI was the same as the camera out-competing painters or sound recorders out-competing live artists.
Do you know what’s different about the photograph or the recording?
They are still their own separate works!
If a painter paints a person for commission, and then that person also commissions a photographer to take a picture of them, is the photographer infringing on the copyright of the painter? Absolutely not; the works are separate.
If a recording artist records a public domain song that another artist performs live, is the recording artist infringing on the live artist? Heavens, no; the works are separate.
On the other hand, these “AI’s” are taking existing works and reusing them.
Say I write a song, and in that song, I use one stanza from the chorus of a song by a popular artist. Verbatim. Would that artist have a copyright claim against me for that? Of course, they would!
That’s what these AI’s do; they copy portions and mix them. Sometimes they are not substantial portions. Sometimes, they are, with verbatim comments (code), identical structure (also code), watermarks (images), composition (also images), lyrics (songs), or motifs (also songs).
In the reverse of the painter and photographer example, we saw US courts hand down judgment against an artist who blatantly copied a photograph.
Anyway, that’s the difference between the tools of photography (creates a new thing) and sound recording (creates a new thing) versus AI (mixes existing things).
And yes, sound mixing can easily stray into copyright infringement. So can other copying of various copyrightable things. I’m not saying humans don’t infringe; I’m saying that AI does by construction.
Each of these arguments would probably not be enough alone, but together, they paint a picture (pun intended) that shows that AI is not just another tool, and that’s the point.