A few things to know about AI. Since the topic is everywhere these days, I want to understand it. Writing about a topic helps me think through it. I hope that reading about the topic will help you think through it along with me.
The July 14 issue of Science magazine inspired this blog. The title image is the slightly creased cover of my copy of the issue. Science is the only magazine I read in print.
A Few Things to Know About AI
First, AI is Artificial Intelligence.
Second, it also goes by the name Generative AI. It can generate content that previously only humans could produce. It does so by ingesting massive amounts of data, then recognizing and recombining patterns to generate a version of what it ingested. If it trains on certain kinds of medical data, it can generate medical diagnoses. And if it trains on masses of screenplays, it can generate screenplays.
Who produces all this training data? As Joseph Gordon-Levitt notes in a recent op-ed piece, “People do.”
Third, it is a disruptive technology.
A Few Things to Know About Yesterday’s Disruptive Technology
Automation. People have worried about it – and stumbled over its unanticipated consequences – for centuries.
What happens when machines replace humans? Think about agriculture and manufacturing. Humans used to do most of the work. But now these two economic sectors have gone from majority to minority shares of employment in many countries.
Let’s consider the moment when piano players could be replaced by player pianos. In the early 20th century, the player piano was the disruptive technology of the day. An unforeseen consequence befell music copyright owners. They sued the makers of piano rolls, claiming that rolls of their music infringed on their copyrights.
Other copyright-disruptive technologies include: cable television, photocopiers, VCRs, and MP3 players. All of these, except photocopiers, attracted copyright challenges.
A Few Things to Know About Copyrights
First, a copyright means, literally, the right to copy. If I sell a book to a publisher, I sell them a print license, while I retain the copyright.
Second, the US Constitution protects Intellectual Property. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 states that Congress has the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” And it does so,”By securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Third, a copyright expires 95 years after publication or 70 years after the death of the author. After this time, a work is in the public domain. Anyone can use the work without asking permission.
The government recognizes that promoting progress while protecting creativity is a balancing act.
A Few Things to Know About Today’s Disruptive Technology
Two things stand out about today’s disruptive technology:
First, Generative AI targets the automation of cognitive rather than physical labor.
Cognitive labor requires education. Sometimes lots of education. For example, a doctor’s ability to diagnose. To take a patient’s symptoms and determine their underlying causes. Traditionally, diagnosis is a doctor’s core skill.
However, if AI automates diagnostic expertise, then what’s a doctor to do? Other health care professionals already exist to offer patient support, stress management and/or day-to-day care.
And let’s say that AI-driven diagnostics become widely available. Non-physician health care workers – nurses, PAs, EMTs, pharmacists – could diagnose the way physicians do.
So, the impact of AI depends on whose core skills get automated. And who has access to that automated information.
We are in sticky territory.
Second, the pace of Generative AI development has taken the world by storm.
Because the law moves much more slowly, the territory likely won’t get less sticky any time soon.
A Few Things To Know In Conclusion
In 1908 the Supreme Court ruled against the music copyright owners and in favor of the makers of piano rolls. The ruling judged that the piano rolls themselves were not music. They were a mechanical part of the machines that played them.
Right now copyright lawsuits involving Generative AI are making their way through the courts. And Generative AI is one focus of the current writers’ strike in Hollywood. The copyright-dependent community is understandably nervous.
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen