The technology industry might be in shock a wave of layoffs, a dramatic crypto-crashand in progress Twitter commotionbut despite these clouds, some investors and entrepreneurs are already planning a new boom-built on artificial intelligence which can generate coherent text, captivating imagesand working computer code. But this new frontier has its own looming cloud.
A class action court case filed in California federal court this month seeks to GitHub co-pilota powerful tool that automatically writes working code when a programmer starts typing. The coder behind the lawsuit argues that GitHub infringes copyright because it does not provide attribution when Copilot reproduces open-source code covered by a license requiring it.
The lawsuit is in its early stages and its prospects are unclear because the underlying technology is new and has not undergone extensive legal scrutiny. But legal experts say it could impact the broader trend of generative AI tools. AI programs that generate paintings, photographs and illustrations from a prompt, as well as text for marketing copy, are all built with algorithms trained on previous work produced by humans.
Visual artists were the first to question the legality and ethics of AI integrating existing work. Some people who live off their visual creativity are upset that AI art tools trained on their work could then produce new images with the same style. The Recording Industry Association of America, a music industry group, reported that AI-powered music generation and remixing could be a new area of copyright concern.
“All this arc that we’re seeing right now – this generative AI space – what does it mean for these new products to suck in the work of these creators?” said Matthew Buttericka designer, programmer, and attorney who filed the lawsuit against GitHub.
Copilot is a powerful example of the creative and commercial potential of generative AI technology. The tool was created by GitHuba subsidiary of Microsoft which hosts the code of hundreds of millions of software projects. GitHub did this by training an algorithm designed to generate code from AI startup Open AI on the vast collection of code it stores, producing a system that can preemptively complete large chunks of code after a programmer has made a few keystrokes. A recent study from GitHub suggests that coders can complete some tasks in less than half the time normally required when using Copilot as a helper.
But like some coders quickly noticed, Copilot will occasionally reproduce recognizable snippets of code taken from the millions of lines of public code repositories. The lawsuit filed by Butterick and others accuses Microsoft, GitHuband Open AI to infringe copyright because this code does not include the attribution required by the open source licenses covering this code.
Programmers have, of course, always studied, learned and copied the code of others. But not everyone is sure it’s fair for the AI to do the same, especially if the AI can then produce tons of valuable code on its own, without meeting the licensing requirements of the source material. “As a technologist, I’m a big fan of AI,” Butterick says. “I look forward to all the possibilities of these tools. But they must be fair to everyone.