AI Art and the Problem of Consent, Mathew Dryhurst, δημοσίευση ArtReview [10/1/2023]
At the dawn of the AI-driven internet, we are witnessing the revenge of free media
In the machine learning era, any expression or piece of media (from selfies to academic articles) is recast as training data for AI. A single piece of media can be reanimated to spawn infinite works. Holly Herndon and I call this reproductive process spawning (creating infinite new works from training data), and believe it is significantly more consequential than 20th-century habits of sampling or collage. A human piecing together a new work from snippets of older works is fundamentally distinct from the automated ability to spawn infinite works in the style or likeness of someone from training data. As such, it demands new ideological frameworks of consent and attribution. The polar ideologies of free culture or rigid IP protectionism of the last century feel insufficient for tackling an issue that promises to mutate into a long culture war.
The origins of this battle can be traced back to original arguments over the internet. In the 1960s Ted Nelson conceptualized hypertext, and conceived of a publishing network, Xanadu, that would serve as a global electronic library of information with attribution at its core. In his model, links between information would always be bi-directional, so you may trace the origins of an idea or piece of media back to their source no matter how far they had travelled. As blockchain enthusiasts will appreciate, those links would also provide a powerful means for payment on top of their archival benefits. The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, was inspired by Nelson’s work, but deviated from this bi-directional link structure. His creation, HTML, a building block of the internet that most use today, utilized one-directional links. This conception of the web won. Anyone now had the tools to publish, and republish, media with no concrete ties to its origins. Nelson’s ideas of an ‘intertwingled’, interdependent, creative ecosystem were jettisoned in favour of the whims of the independent individual.
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