Want agency in the AI age? Get ready to fight

Writers are protesting against studios’ use of AI language models to write scripts. Actors are on strike after rejecting a proposal from companies seeking to use AI technology to scan people’s faces and bodies, and own the right to use these deepfake-style digital copies without consent or compensation in perpetuity. 

What connects these cases is a fear that humans will be replaced by computer programs, and a feeling that there’s very little we can do about it. No wonder. Our lax approach to regulating the excesses of the previous tech boom means AI companies have felt safe building and launching products that are exploitative and harmful

But that is about to change. The generative AI boom has revived American politicians’ enthusiasm for passing AI-specific laws. Though it’ll take a while until that has any effect, existing laws already provide plenty of ammunition for those who say their rights have been harmed by AI companies. 

I just published a story looking at the flood of lawsuits and investigations that have hit those companies recently. These lawsuits are likely to be very influential in ensuring that the way AI is developed and used in the future is more equitable and fair. Read it here

The gist is that last week, the Federal Trade Commission opened an investigation into whether OpenAI violated consumer protection laws by scraping people’s online data to train its popular AI chatbot ChatGPT. 

Meanwhile, artists, authors, and the image company Getty are suing AI companies such as OpenAI, Stability AI, and Meta, alleging that they broke copyright laws by training their models on their work without providing any recognition or payment. Last week comedian and author Sarah Silverman joined the authors’ copyright fight against AI companies. 

Both the FTC investigation and the slew of lawsuits revolve around AI’s data practices, which rely on hoovering the internet for data to train models. This inevitably includes personal data as well as copyrighted works

These cases will essentially determine how AI companies are legally allowed to behave,  says Matthew Butterick, a lawyer who represents artists and authors, including Silverman, in class actions against GitHub and Microsoft, OpenAI, Stability AI, and Meta. 

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