Over the past few months, a relatively new, highly controversial technology has seen a meteoric rise in use for many aspects of human existence.
Generative artificial intelligence (or AI) has undergone massive leaps and bounds in its development and capabilities.
Beginning with the release of ChatGPT on Nov. 30, 2022, many of the world’s leading corporations have either started developing or released their own variant of this technology.
From Google’s Bard to Microsoft’s Bing Chat, it seems everyone wants their own piece of this highly lucrative pie.
However, these futuristic advancements come with their own fair share of ethical questions surrounding when, where, and how to use them, and it is now up to society to decide where to draw the line.
New technology, new questions
The first major problem with AI is inherent with how it is developed.
In order to generate material, an AI bot must first be trained on an influx of pre-existing, human-made works.
For example, a bot created to reproduce the written style of an author must first be “fed” examples of that author’s work. The same principle applies to an artist’s drawings, a musician’s songs or even an actor or singer’s own voice.
Since the original works require the time, energy, learned skills and passions of a real person to create, it should come as no surprise that many creatives do not take kindly to having their life’s work used — often without permission — for a program designed to reproduce their livelihoods without their involvement and for a fraction of the cost and resources.
In light of these new technological marvels, new questions surrounding the familiar, tangly concept of copyright abound: Does copyright apply to what is, by definition, not the artist’s original work— or even an “artist’s” work at all? Should AI-generated material fall under a realm of acceptable use, such as parody? And should it be possible to copyright something as personal as someone’s own voice?
What is ‘proper’ use?
These questions have led to yet another ethical quandary: When, if at all, should the use of AI be acceptable?
This very issue was at the core of the (at the time of writing) recently ended Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) strike, as well as the ongoing Screen Actor’s Guild strike that followed.
“The very nature of AI is that its answers are crafted piecemeal from various sources it has only skimmed through.”
Faced with the prospect of major film and television producers making use of these technologies to rely less on human talent, or even replace it entirely, they took action to preserve their livelihoods and ensure fair compensation for their work.
“The contract,” writes Hamilton Nolan in an article for the Guardian detailing the new deal negotiated by the WGA, “guarantees that AI is not considered a “writer”, that companies cannot force writers to use AI and that companies must disclose if writers are given any AI-generated material to work with.”
This same issue of “proper” AI use is of great importance in the academic world, including here at Memorial University: the university’s Academic Integrity Policy specifically outlaws the use of AI technology in any academic assignment, unless permission is specifically given.
Tip of moral iceberg
The final issue with AI?
It is unreliable.
As Memorial University Libraries puts it quite expressively: “Imagine if you had a friend who had a vast memory and was excellent at improv, but was a pathological liar with no moral compass.”
The very nature of AI is that its answers are crafted piecemeal from various sources it has only skimmed through.
So, combined with the majority of its information coming from the mis- and disinformation rife internet, these generative technologies cannot and should not be taken as an infallible source of entirely accurate information.
With this technology only having just achieved its prevalent status in society, it is safe to say that we’ve only seen the tip of this moral iceberg.
However, the swift action of the Writer’s Guild of America helped to produce a sound blueprint for sailing through these murky waters, in the hopes that the very human nature of art will prevail in the face of mass-produced corporate greed.