When successful, art exceeds its creator’s plans. So true in these days of AI.
No one could have envisioned the “travelings” of a book, an article or a legal blog post. To the “Books3 database” for Meta’s AI?
Ian Bogost, a contributing writer for The Atlantic, takes a contra – and refreshing – view to that of most authors, reporters and publishers when it comes to the scraping of their work for the training of AI large language models such as ChatGPT.
A searchable database revealed that thousands of books were used “without permission,” causing some authors to express outrage and even launch lawsuits against Meta.
Whether or not Meta’s behavior amounts to infringement is a matter for the courts to decide. Permission is a different matter. One of the facts (and pleasures) of authorship is that one’s work will be used in unpredictable ways. The philosopher Jacques Derrida liked to talk about “dissemination,” which I take to mean that, like a plant releasing its seed, an author separates from their published work. Their readers (or viewers, or listeners) not only can but must make sense of that work in different contexts. A retiree cracks a Haruki Murakami novel recommended by a grandchild. A high-school kid skims Shakespeare for a class. My mother’s tree trimmer reads my book on play at her suggestion. A lack of permission underlies all of these uses, as it underlies influence in general: When successful, art exceeds its creator’s plans.
Sitting with a group of law firm leaders in January, I was told they were going to sign a demand letter, along with other large law firms, demanding that large LLM’s – OpenAI, Google, etc – stop scraping the open legal publishing of law firms.
I thought lots of luck – and why would you want to stop the advancement of the law, which the use of AI in legal publishing represents.
That silliness by law firms, as best I can tell, has subsided.
Let’s look at books, articles and legal publishing – and AI itself – as vessels for ideas, per Bogost.
Once bound and published, boxed and shipped, my books find their way to places I might never have anticipated. As vessels for ideas, I hope, but also as doorstops or insect-execution devices or as the last inch of a stack that holds up a laptop for an important Zoom. Or even—even!—as a litany of tokens, chunked apart to be reassembled by the alien mind of a weird machine. Why not? I am an author, sure, but I am also a man who put some words in order amid the uncountable others who have done the same. If authorship is nothing more than vanity, then let the machines put us out of our misery.
I tend to agree with Bogost that authors, rather than feeling violated, should consider the unexpected ways their works contribute to the collective human—and increasingly machine—understanding.
Question the idea that the sanctity of authorship should prevail over the dissemination of ideas, especially in an age where the lines between original content and aggregated information are continuously blurring.
Perhaps contra to that of an IP lawyer, but seems the right fit in the days of AI where writings are melded into a vessel for the advancement of knowledge.