Economic impacts of large language models, a take

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Regarding StableDiffusion and GPT and similar models, there is one discussion point floating around, which I find seems to dominate the discussion but may not be the most relevant one. As we know, the training data for these models has been "basically everything the trainers could get their hands on", and then usually some stuff which is identified as possibly problematic is removed.

Many artists are currently complaining about their images, for which they hold copyright, being used for training these models. I think these are very reasonable complaints, and we will likely see a number of court cases and even changes to law to clarify the legal aspects of these practises.

From my perspective this is not the most important concern though. I acknowledge that I have a privileged perspective in so far as I don't pay my rent based on producing art or text in my particular style, and I entirely understand if someone who does is worried about that most, as it is a much more immediate concern.

But now assume that these models were all trained on public domain images and texts and music etc. Maybe there isn't enough public domain content out there right now? I don't know, but training methods are getting increasingly more efficient and the public domain is growing, so that's likely just a temporary challenge, if at all.

Does that change your opinion of such models?

Is it really copyright that you are worried about, or is it something else?

For me it is something else.

These models will, with quite some certainty, become similarly fundamental and transformative to the economy as computers and electricity have been. Which leads to many important questions. Who owns these models? Who can run them? How will the value that is created with these models be captured and distributed across society? How will these models change the opportunities of contributing to society, and there opportunities in participating in the wealth being created?

Copyright is one of the current methods to work with some of these questions. But I don't think it is the crucial one. What we need is to think about how the value that is being created is distributed in a way that benefits everyone, ideally.

We should live in a world in which the capabilities that are being discovered inspire excitement and amazement because of what might be possible in the future. Instead we live in a world where they cause anxiety and fear because of the very real possibility of further centralising wealth more effectively and further destabilizing lives that are already precarious. I wish we could move from the later world to the former.

That is not a question of technology. That is a question of laws, social benefits, social contracts.

A similar fear has basically killed the utopian vision which was once driving a project such as Google Books. What could have been a civilisational dream of having all the books of the world available everywhere has become so much less. Because of the fears of content creators and publishers.

I'm not saying these fears were wrong.

Unfortunately, I do not know what the answer is. What changes need to happen. Does anyone have links to potential answers, that are feasible? Feasible in the sense that the necessary changes have a chance of being actually implemented, as changes to our legal and social system.

My answer used to be Universal Basic Income, and part of me still thinks it might be our best shot. But I'm not as sure as I used to be twenty years ago. Not only about whether we can ever get there, but even whether it would be a good idea. It would certainly be a major change that would alleviate many of the issues raised above. And it could be financed by a form of AI tax, to ensure the rent is spread widely. But we didn't do that with industrialization and electrification, and there are reasonable arguments against.

And yet, it feels like the most promising way forward. I'm torn.

If you read this far, thank you, and please throw a few ideas and thoughts over, in the hope of getting unstuck.


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