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September 25, 2023

I learn a lesson in humility and ponder the rights of our computer citizens.

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

Somehow most of the media managed to miss the best part of the suit filed on behalf of the Authors Guild and a bunch of best-selling authors against OpenAI Inc. last week.

In case you missed it, the plaintiffs in a complaint filed in federal court in New York claimed that algorithms are engaged in “systematic theft on a mass scale” of copyrighted work that gets used to train “large language models” that can mimic authors’ work.

The news stories about this omitted what should have been the headline: the defendant confessed!

It’s in paragraph 87 of the complaint, if you’re keeping score.

“In response to a query submitted to it in January 2023, the chatbot responded, “It is possible that some of the books used to train me were under copyright … . If any copyrighted material was included in my training data, it would have been used without the knowledge or consent of the copyright holder.”

Perry Mason couldn’t have broken down a witness better than this.

Humility. The various lawsuits against AI for potentially replacing writers had me worried. Has a computer learned how to write Milt Policzer columns? How will you know if a human wrote one of these opuses? Have I trained an algorithm?

So I asked ChatGPT what Milt Policzer writes about. This is the answer I got:

“I'm sorry, but I don't have specific information about an author named Milt Policzer in my database, and there may not be widely available information about this author up to my last knowledge update in September 2021. It's possible that Milt Policzer is not a well-known author, or their works may not have gained significant recognition or coverage in mainstream literature up to that point.”

I don’t know whether to be relieved or insulted.

Both, probably.

By the way, I may not be the only person questioning my self-worth. If you’ve got a minute, search for news stories about last week’s AI lawsuit. Notice anything interesting?

Almost all the headlines — and most of the stories — named some combination of three of the authors: George R.R. Martin, Jodi Picoult and John Grisham. The New York Times name-dropped five more but not all of the plaintiffs, and only two made it into the NYT headline — “Franzen, Grisham and Other Prominent Authors Sue OpenAI.”

Are all those unnamed authors really prominent? They’re probably not feeling that way right now.

Computer rights. If AIs are being accused of committing crimes by stealing intellectual property or, say, rigging the stock market, do they have rights?

Can an AI take the Fifth?

After all, corporations are people and they can’t even talk or write. So, surely, AIs must be people too.

If an AI is convicted of a crime, should the program designer go to jail even if they had no control over what the computer did? We don’t, after all, send human criminal parents to jail (usually).

How do you punish an AI? Is pulling the plug cruel and unusual?

Someone needs to get a computer working on these issues.

Comparison. Is a tent the same as a decoration?

I know that’s a weird thing to ask but, as you may have immediately guessed, it’s now an issue in litigation.

A couple last week sued a homeowners association in federal court in Illinois because the association won’t let them put up a tent required for the Jewish holiday of Sukkos in their driveway.

I have no idea why the association would care about this — especially since the tent would only be there for nine days. The suit claims the reason is discrimination.

“Prohibiting the erection of a Sukkah (the tent) for the holiday of Sukkos but allowing Christmas lights not only during Christmas, but for the month before and nearly three weeks thereafter sends (a) loud and clear message that while certain religious displays are welcome, Jews are not.”

So is a temporary tent on a driveway comparable to decorations on a house?

I don’t know, but I have a suggestion for the plaintiffs: Go wild on the Hannukah decorations this year.

And object to any outdoor mangers.

Categories / Arts, Op-Ed, Technology

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