Sunday 11 December 2022

The Creative Commons, AI Renderers and the Death of Cheap Credit

Jeez, I was expecting an AI rendering, not a terrifying series of ethical and social issues brought on by an AI revolution. By the way, shouldn't you be a mechanical monstrosity instead of a four armed werewolf? (Image created with Midjourney v4)

My understanding is that copyright laws were originally intended to protect creators and help assure them income and credit for their efforts. Copyright would last the writer/creator's lifetime plus fifty years, allowing their dependents the benefit of their creations as well. After that, the work would join the Creative Commons, enriching society and allowing others the chance to play with these wonderful memetic inventions.

The laws were designed before franchises became a thing, and, oh boy, have they complicated things. 

Franchises emerged with the Penny Dreadfuls of the 1880s, small press anthology publications that came out weekly or monthly, and were filled with all manner of Victorian click bait, sordid tales of debauchery, high adventure, murder and monsters. At the high end you'd get things like Solomon Kane and Sherlock Holmes. Think of them as the spiritual forefathers of adventure serials from the thirties and forties. They were addictive, with cliffhangers, so you'd have to plunk down another penny to get the next instalment. By then the reader would be hooked on another ongoing story in the anthology. 

And so an addict is born!

Franchise characters took on much larger life than their creators ever had, becoming immortal archetypes and perpetual money making machines... or would, except for the pesky expiry of that copyright law.

Then Disney steps into the picture.

Think of Disney as the Irresistible Force meeting... the Moveable Object. They wanted extensions on copyright protections for their prized franchise properties. And their lawyers were backed by big bucks. The courts blinked. 

They've been tacking on extensions to copy right law ever since. 

Where am I going with this? 

The AI renderers have been training their tools on the work of living artists, work which has not yet entered the Creative Commons. True, they're just analyzing the art, same as art students do, but they're doing it on a massive scale and in a systematized way no human could. They are outside of anything legal protections were designed to address. No one anticipated (okay maybe Jules Verne, but that book of predictions didn't get published until like a decade or two ago) AI renderers.

Over the last 4 months, Midjourney has improved dramatically. The renderers were at first far short of commercially viable. After four months of improvements, they are damn close. The commercial art community has started raising the alarm, and renderers are being compared to art theft. 

The crazy thing is that the AI renderers are just a side show for researchers, who want to bring about a utopia. There are so many areas where AI could seriously upend things, and just as many ways things could go wrong. Even the developers are getting a little unnerved. See this Vox article for more.

Right now, there's no law against an AI analyzing someone's work for the sake of training. But AI will be analyzing every area of human thought, sooner than later. It's going to be an issue. 

It will affect so many fields, legislators won't be able to ignore it.

First, we will need to extend copyright to styles, to an artist's body of work, for the life of the artist plus fifty, at least insofar as an AI is concerned. This is especially true if, or when, AI are able to produce commercially equivalent product that is indistinguishable quality wise to the original human artist. Once that point is reached, we're going to see serious impact on our creative community. Just another shock after many. 

Using AI renderers for fun is one thing, but using them commercially poses real ethical issues. Once an artist is dead and copyright expires, sure, let the AI sample away. Prior to that? We either shouldn't allow that to be done commercially, or a fee should be paid to the relevant artist being sampled. We need incentives to not only keep creative people creating, but to keep people joining those creative fields, not fleeing them in terror as they have visions of impoverishment. 

We've analyzed the issue, sir, and there is a problem...

I have played with Midjourney (it's wildly addictive) and used it for fun and social. I don't think you should charge for the renders it produces (which strikes me as being against the terms of service, anyone can freely use what Midjourney generates), but I am now wondering if it's even ethical to have a subscription at all, especially as it gets better and better. 

And those outputs of Mickey Mouse doing nasty things makes me wonder what Disney thinking...

Hopefully the companies that created the AI renderers will come to an agreement with the artists before legislation is even needed. 

Second, the AI Revolution will be HUGELY disruptive; a universal basic income will be needed to weather the social storms that follow. Free higher education, and continuing education, will be vital to maintaining a productive workforce, supporting workers as they retrain. Or try to. Humans don't learn as fast as AI.

If I lose my job, it's my problem. If twenty MILLION people lose their jobs all at once, it's society's problem; ie. the AI Revolution could (hey, I'm a writer, I'm imaginative. Oh, where are my smelling salts?) be followed by an old school revolution, one that involves the modern equivalent of torches and pitchforks. 

There have already been troubling trends towards wealth polarization, of stagnating wages for the middle and lower classes, while CEO and billionaire wealth explodes. 

Finally, the Baby Boomers are retiring. They are the largest generation EVER. They created the greatest pool of available credit in human history. Credit has never been as cheap as it has been in the last couple decades. 

And soon all of that, the lifeblood of thousands of tech start ups that haven't turned a profit yet and live on investment money, will be gone. 

Things are going to get a lot leaner. Health care costs and taxes will go up. There will be one working Gen Xer for every 4 retired boomers. That will make UBI and FHE even more difficult to implement. 

An AI Revolution, however, could spike productivity, and provide enough surplus for everyone (a new Golden Age!). Or it could funnel wealth to a tiny percentage and leave millions penniless (welcome to Dystopia!). 

And that is something we will get a say in, eventually, hopefully, with our votes. 

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