Emerging Technologies

Can there be creative equity in the age of AI?

Man playing guitar: Creative platforms should be universally accessible ensuring that the benefits of machine creativity are equitably distributed – creative equity.

Creative platforms should be universally accessible ensuring that the benefits of machine creativity are equitably distributed – creative equity. Image: Unsplash/Jefferson Santos

Faisal Kazim
Head, Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, United Arab Emirates
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  • Both human and machine creativity – via artificial intelligence (AI) – are inspired and learned from the surrounding world but machines are facing more legal challenges when "trained" on copyrighted content.
  • Existing legal frameworks were designed around human creativity but are now being stretched by machine capabilities, prompting the need to reevaluate frameworks to accommodate machine creativity without undermining human value.
  • Creative platforms should be universally accessible ensuring that the benefits of machine creativity are equitably distributed – creative equity – and that the digital future is inclusive.

Are we getting in the way of progress by not letting machines take inspiration from our world?

Charging an entity - whether organic or silicon-based - money to experience and learn from the beautiful world around us seems unjust. Yet, the world is up in arms because developers of artificial intelligence (AI) models have "trained" them on existing content. Critics argue that developers aren't compensating those creating the content that makes up the training data. Adding to this logic is that much of this content is copyrighted.

In AI, "training" refers to the teaching of AI models to understand, interpret and generate predictions based on data. This process is how AI models and machines, more broadly, experience our world.

When it comes to humans, everything we experience plays a huge part in how we create new things. Inspiration comes through so many varied things, people and experiences in life, but we're not expected to pay for each interaction or moment of ingenuity. To do so would debilitate the creative process.

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If inspiration had a price tag

Consider any creative individual – music artist Ed Sheeran, for example. His exposure to and inspiration from diverse artists – from Damian Rice to Eminem – throughout his life has shaped the unique musical style that has made him one of the world's most successful and influential musicians with multiple awards.

What if Sheeran could only perform once he paid everyone who inspired him and effectively learned from? Having faced a lawsuit for his song "Thinking Out Loud" for its alleged similarity to Marvin Gaye's work, Sheeran was found to have no liability. One Washington Post op-ed described the suit as "a threat to Western civilization" and the equivalent of asking a painter to pay to use the colour red because someone else got there first.

Imagine if no artist, writer or actor could start creating without first compensating everyone who inspired them or if inspiration came with a price tag. Creating something new would be a luxury only the rich could afford, and how that would change our world.

For machines, this scenario is not hypothetical; it's our reality. Numerous AI companies are being sued for training their models on copyrighted content. For example, The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft, claiming that their AI tools use its content without permission. Getty Images sued Stable Diffusion creator Stability AI, claiming they used its copyrighted library of images to train the Stable Diffusion model.

Fair use?

In their defence, the AI developers say training AI with web content is "fair use," a legal provision that allows for copyrighted material to be used without permission in certain circumstances.

Are these lawsuits really that different from Sheeran's example? If not, some might see these AI lawsuits as a threat to our future civilization, and the time has come to ask if we should now treat machines like humans.

Given the rapid pace of development in AI over the past few years, unlocking machine creativity could lead to unprecedented advancements. For instance, accurate prediction of environmental changes, the development of medications and treatments, or algorithms that compose music or create art that resonates with human emotions in new ways. But what would that mean for the job market, society and our overall sense of value and purpose?

We may be far away from silicon-based entities replacing humans. However, we can start thinking about the best ways to enable machines to learn from our world without stifling innovation and allowing creativity and innovation to flourish unhampered, whether from humans or machines.

As we start to share the creative world with machines, ensuring universal accessibility of what they can produce will be crucial for fostering an inclusive digital future.

Faisal Kazim, Head of UAE Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and Director of Future Foresight at Dubai Future Foundation

The roots of creativity

The current legal framework was designed for a world where human creativity was the sole source of artistic and intellectual production and is being stretched to its limits by the capabilities of machines. The recent legal battles are symptomatic of a larger issue regarding the nature of creativity, ownership and inspiration. Until we confront this issue, the polarized views and large-scale lawsuits will continue.

Multi-stakeholder dialogues involving copyright holders, AI developers, legal experts, policymakers and representatives from the public are necessary to rethink legal and ethical frameworks to accommodate machine creativity while maintaining human purpose and value.

Furthermore, as we start to share the creative world with machines, ensuring universal accessibility of what they can produce will be crucial for fostering an inclusive digital future and paving the way for emerging talents from every corner of the world. It will ensure that the benefits from machines are equitably distributed.

Therefore, we must cultivate an environment where creative platforms are universally accessible, supporting the emergence of talent regardless of geographic and socio-economic barriers.

The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the views of the United Arab Emirates Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Dubai Future Foundation unless otherwise noted.

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