Opinion | A Creator (Me) Made a Masterpiece With A.I. - The New York Times
I’ve got 99 problems with A.I., but intellectual property ain’t one.
Media and entertainment industries have lately been consumed with questions about how content generated by artificial intelligence systems should be considered under intellectual property law. Last week a federal judge ruled against an attempt to copyright art produced by a machine. In July another federal judge suggested in a hearing that he would most likely dismiss a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by artists against several artificial intelligence art generators. How A.I. might alter the economics of the movie and TV business has become one of the primary issues in the strike by writers and actors in Hollywood. And major news companies — including The Times — are weighing steps to guard the intellectual property that flows from their journalism.
In the face of all the possible actions against A.I. and its makers, I’d suggest caution. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether musicians, painters, photographers, writers, filmmakers and other producers of creative work — including, on good days, myself — should fear that machines might damage their livelihoods. After extensive research and consultation with experts, I’ve arrived at a carefully considered, nuanced position: meh.
Controversies over A.I. are going to put a lot of copyright lawyers’ kids through college. But the more I use ChatGPT, Midjourney and other A.I. tools, the more I suspect that many of the intellectual property questions they prompt will prove less significant than we sometimes assume. That’s because computers by themselves cannot yet and might never be able to produce truly groundbreaking creative work.
History offers one clue: Technologies that made art easier to produce have rarely ended up stifling human creativity. Electronic synthesizers didn’t eliminate the need for people who play musical instruments. Auto-Tune didn’t make singing on pitch obsolete. Photography didn’t kill painting, and its digitization didn’t obviate the need for professional photographers.
Then there’s the content I’ve seen A.I. produce: Unless it’s been heavily worked over by human beings, a lot of the music, images, jokes and stories that A.I. has given us so far have felt more like great mimicry than great art. Sure, it’s impressive that ChatGPT can write a pop song in the style of Taylor Swift. But the ditties still smack of soulless imitation. They’re not going to go platinum or sell out stadiums. A.I. might undermine some of the more high-volume corners of photography — stock photos, for instance — but will you use it to capture your wedding or to document a war? Nope.
Lemley is one of the lawyers representing the A.I. firm Stability AI in a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by artists. At the heart of that suit is the issue of how A.I. systems are trained. Most gain their smarts by analyzing enormous amounts of digital content, including lots of copyrighted work. Which prompts the question: Should the artists be compensated for their contributions, and if so, how?
To me, the answer is no. When a machine is trained to understand language and culture by poring over a lot of stuff online, it is acting, philosophically at least, just like a human being who draws inspiration from existing work. I don’t mind if human readers are informed or inspired by reading my work — that’s why I do it! — so why should I fret that computers will be?
Of course, one reason I might mind is if the machine uses what it learns from reading my work to produce work that could substitute for my own. But at the risk of hubris, I don’t think that’s likely in the foreseeable future. For me, a human creator’s very humanity feels like the ultimate trump card over the machines: Who cares about a computer’s opinion on anything?