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AI and the economy of stealing

AI is the new kid on the block. We are thrilled and terrified by its capabilities. Whether it will cure the cancer or start a termonuclear war, I cannot say. But I am here to discuss another topic that I am sure it occurred to some of you. It is the morality of using human creation to so call “create” new stuff.

I grew up in the eighties and I was thought that the most powerful thing is the human creativity and ingenuity. That the human mind is capable of learning and thinking processes that are able to transform the world and improve human life for good. Which is true. I was also told that thinking is better than physical work, it is amplified human work. Therefore if you develop your cognitive skills, this will help on your entire life. More than that, I was made aware that the work of an engineer let’s say is better paid than the work of a cleaning man because of the time needed to develop the engineer skills.

Does this still hold? Is AI changing the paradigm?

I am asking the question because what we are calling the AI now, does not affect the work of a plumber in a major way. It affects for instance the work of a graphical designer or the work of a musician, instead. It might affect the work of a writer, of a journalist, of a marketing consulting (maybe – I will get back on the subject) and I can go on with different jobs. But is nothing wrong in being a plumber. Maybe the engineer, the musician or the writer work has come to an end.

The Copyright issue

Today I want to address the issue of the copyright in this article.

One of the skills that AI took by storm is music creation. I am sure that we will see in the future major changes in the way we listen and search for new music. I am sure that our music tastes will evolve rapidly.

I have a few experience in making music, so I will make a short introduction here. Making an original 3-5 minutes song is not something trivial. It requires study and understanding of music, harmonies, rhythm, some taste and you need to combine this work with music production and mastering in order to make a decent song. You probably need to exercise your music skills at least 5 years (if you are really talented) to create something that people would appreciate. You might need also to pay some people to get your creation out in the world.

What we so call AI today, are the LLMs (Large Language Models) that are able to pass through a large amount of data (as training data) and based on this training to “create” something similar – but different. They are basically statistical algorithms with a feedback loop. Don’t get me wrong the mathematics behind the model is amazing. But even if it looks like creation, in fact is not.

Trivially said, it is like an averaging device with a human person intervening in the feedback loop. The role of the intervention helps the system to train better and to provide the desired output. Yes! If it didn’t occur to you, every Chat GPT “conversation” you are having (even if you use the paid version) helps the system to tailor the answers, to improve its capabilities and profile you better. Even better than your online or YouTube search. Of course you get some answers in exchange.

In this simple manner you can ask the system to train on let’s say Led Zeppelin music and rhymes (it can be anybody else with a catalog) and to come up with a song that sounds like Led Zeppelin. You can market the song to a community of Led Zeppelin fans and voila! You have a song that most of them (the listeners) will definitely love and stream for many times. you can make some bucks. Meanwhile you won’t have to pay a dime to Led Zeppelin because there is no plagiarism per se involved in the process.

Can you call this a creative act?

Now, in the case of Led Zeppelin, maybe someone will catch you and at least shame you in somehow, but what happens if you use a small band – that nobody heard of – creations? or maybe a combination (more bands together)?

In my opinion this is an act of stealing. And an entire new economy is build on this model. Photos, films, writing, articles and I can go on. It takes a talented writer at least a few months to write a novel and maybe a day to write a Stephen King style novel using AI.

But this idea is not new. We let companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook to use and sell our data and pay nothing in exchange (still a stealing act in my opinion – but I will let the topic for another discussion) but the LLM’s are taking it to a higher level.

And I am not saying that the progress should not follow its course. I am saying that Stephen Kings and Led Zeppelins should receive their compensation. For every single moment when the system is using a tiny piece of their creation or content to train the system.

But Manu, if we pay every single creator, the AI company will make less money or no money. How will it survive? People invested billions to create the LLM.

Maybe they should practice a higher price. So that if you want to “create” a Led Zep song it will cost you let’s say 10 000 dollars. (this will still be cheap in my opinion) Or maybe you need to learn to sing and to make music if you want to be called a creator. If people do not want to pay for the service, it means the service does not worth it. Paying 20USD a month for Chat GPT is like paying 10USD for a stollen piece of Dior sun glasses, from a luxury store.

And on the other hand, the LLM methodology and mathematics used the work of thousands of enthusiasts from open software community and further on, when it started to work, the system became closed. Open AI is not that open. In the pursuit of “disrupting” the business models there is a lot of unpaid work. The stealing started early on.

It is easy to claim that you have 10 million users in a short period of time and compare yourself with the adoption rate of the automobile. But you gave a service based on stealing the intelectual property of millions for free (definitely a lot of value), when in 1910’s people had to pay for the cars – that were one of the most expensive item money could buy at that time.

It is not even fair to say that you trained your data based on “free” content from www either. Because if I am writing a good article to post it on line, I am writing it for people to make a minimum effort to visit my website and maybe mention me in citations. At least you get notoriety out of it. If a LLM is training on your website, it can use your style and information and you don’t even get cited. Doesn’t seem fair to me!

What companies like (there are more than) Open AI, backed-up by Microsoft, Google and Amazon did, is like having invested in a system that can emulate any key in the world, to open any single door on this planet, (of course it cost me lot of money to make it) and now I am giving lock-pick sets almost for free and ask for a few bucks for those who open “premium houses”. And call this a success? It might be!

Morally it sucks!

I am aware that there is nothing I can do to make it fair. The train has left the station here. But at least I can make other people aware and maybe together, one day we can find a solution. If you agree to this idea please spread the word 🙂





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