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I've been struggling with this question recently:

Question: I prompt an AI into generating something; who created it?

I can think of arguments in quite a few directions:

I created it: The AI is an advanced tool (like a computer) that allows me to generate things which I could not generate otherwise. Analogously, a spreadsheet does not spontaneously appear, but I can prompt my computer into making a spreadsheet by pushing keys and making mouse movements. Despite not filling in every single cell in the spreadsheet myself (getting the computer to infer cell contents), a reasonable person would still say that I created the spreadsheet (even if my computer generated 99% of its contents). What the AI generates, it likewise could not generate without my prompting. I instruct the AI on what to do, like how I instruct the spreadsheet.

(Also, if I were to prompt the AI into generating something illegal, I think most people would assume I would be the person to go to jail, and not the AI itself, or someone else.)

The AI created it: The AI utilizes (artificial) neurons and plays an active role in ultimately deciding its output; it is the last step in the process. The AI hardware (probably some GPU in a server somewhere) expended energy to create it. It was generated based on knowledge that I don't possess, via into an artificial neural network I'm incapable of comprehending. The given prompt is no more help than, say, a writing prompt is in writing a novel.

(This gets even more confusing if I created the AI...)

Billions of contributors created it: The AI went through training on vast corpora of data, and the AI output is a selective combination of previously made contributions by a vast number of contributors. Moreover, the AI was built using computer science developed over decades, on hardware which has been developed since the advent of science. It's not "standing on the shoulders of giants", but "1000 ants, one on top of another". Likewise, a car is made of many interdependent and sophisticated parts, so no one person can makes a car from scratch (e.g. a pile of iron ore).

Or maybe...

The AI's engineers created it: The software engineers created a generative tool, so what that tool generates is, indirectly, generated by the software engineers, despite being operated by another party.

(This argument seems flimsy. Did the developers of C++ likewise make all C++-developed software? But maybe AI is a distinct concept.)

I'm hoping I can straighten out these thoughts, and choose the most pertinent arguments.

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    Or did the people that created the dataset on which the AI was trained create it?
    – Johan
    Jul 1, 2023 at 15:59
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    Or the folks who invented the transistor, or developed electricity, or Boolean logic? Or counting. Words. Social cooperation. The Krebs cycle...
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 1, 2023 at 17:06
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    I think that @uhoh's SE lemmas might similarly apply here; at least the first two.
    – uhoh
    Jul 2, 2023 at 6:07
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    When talking about an AI that relies on training data (such as pretty much all AI) you may want to include the creators of the training data (like for example documents used for learning by LLM machines) in your question ( I see @Johan made this point already). Maybe you even may want to extend to people who were involved by manually rating or classifying output, and contributed to training in this way. Jul 2, 2023 at 10:36
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    We humans are obsessed about creating vague concepts and then trying to force reality to fall into those concepts. We ask ourselves if the ship of Theseus is "the same" after having the parts replaced, but we fail at defining what "the same" means. Reality doesn't fall into such arbitrary concepts. The concept of "who" made something is vague and open to interpretations, and as such the answer will also be vague and open to interpretations.
    – Elerium115
    Jul 3, 2023 at 12:53

8 Answers 8

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Stories of creation, like stories of attribution, are social constructs. Causation involves many interacting parts, going out and back as far as one can imagine. When we talk about somebody having done or created something, we are expressing an idea of ownership. This is social in nature. In practice, the purpose of ownership is to control resources -- whether material or social. For example, ownership of land implies that one has the legal right to manage, manipulate, and benefit from that land. Similarly, ownership of deed -- action, behaviour, or its effects -- implies the social right to brag about, or even request compensation for, the value, awe, or outcome of said deed. In both cases, part of society has decided that benefit or credit should go to some party.

Outside of society, however, the notion of ownership may lack meaning or definition. Within conventional nature, ownership is essentially limited to what can be taken or protected. When social beings then come along, they may impose constructed moral systems of attribution, which may divide matter and event in various possible ways. Each system usually has its respective priorities and assumptions. Presumably some frameworks and assumptions are closer to true than others. But even between two attribution systems of equal accuracy, each may prioritise a different time horizon, where each better serves the outcome for a different span of future. Of course there are other factors too. Overall, each style has its pros and cons.

On the question of ownership or attribution after prompting generative artificial intelligence (generative AI), the matter thus comes back to intended purpose of imposing such ownership or attribution. Many parties and parts were necessary for the end result, including the prompt giver, the AI itself, the training data, the AI designer, any funding providers, the required software systems, hardware systems, their respective development and resources, society, science, and indeed nature itself.

If we are to narrow our attribution to only a subset of those pieces involved, first we must figure out why it matters, and what we are looking to accomplish.

For example, if the goal is personal gain, then likely one would claim full ownership, perhaps even omitting how the result was obtained. If the goal is to raise awareness of the AI in question, then indeed it could be emphasised as the creator. If technological advancement is to be celebrated, perhaps society and technology in general could be highlighted. Some might even go the religious route, explaining the result as part of God's greatness. Essentially, how we form and express attribution and ownership is a function of assumptions and priorities. And like other questions of morality, the answer depends on values.

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    So the answer to the question is basically, "Who wants to know?"
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 1, 2023 at 12:14
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    @ScottRowe -- If the "who" is this moment's expression of values and priorities, then the "who" might be the determining factor -- or designated "cause" -- of which story is selected. Yet the "who" is moving and changing. As with id, ego, and superego -- but also for instances of identity confusion or multiplicity -- there may exist a plurality of "who's" simultaneously. Like waves in the ocean, each story tells itself alone; but no story is ever on its own. At best, we might entertain the story of stories, but even that gives way to the storyless story.
    – Michael
    Jul 1, 2023 at 15:00
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    Can I take credit for your statement because my comment prompted it? :-)
    – Scott Rowe
    Jul 1, 2023 at 17:04
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    @ScottRowe -- Such attribution is certainly possible. But the prompts, like turtles, go all the way down.
    – Michael
    Jul 1, 2023 at 17:06
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This is a conundrum applicable to any attribution of responsibility, not just AI. While I personally would attribute the plurality of responsibility of creation (of the resulting image, say, or text) as you, it's certainly a valid point that the other actors had a hand in it as well.

As another example, consider a house: is "the" creator the architect, the buyer, or the bricklayers? I would suggest that any of them could be, depending on how you interpret "creator" - and therefore, to insist on singling out one of them as "the" creator is somewhat arbitrary.

("Arbitrary" doesn't necessarily mean "wrong" here: which side of the road people drive on is also arbitrary, but it's much better when people all pick the same one)

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  • Is it the baker who baked the bread, or is it the electric oven? My relative used a smart cooker; did he make the meal or was it the smart cooker?
    – Clockwork
    Jul 1, 2023 at 14:33
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    @Clockwork -- If we are to be honest and fair, since both the person and cooker were involved, we might say the composite being, person-cooker, baked the bread. If we then include the electricity, we might say person-cooker-utility baked it. If we keep going, however, the baking process and the bread eventually join together in such that existence rather becomes or expresses as the bread. Put another way, we might say that in the process of baking, the baker becomes the bread -- I am become bread, destroyer of hunger.
    – Michael
    Jul 3, 2023 at 15:28
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Nobody. You discovered it. If a pseudo-random number generator outputs a string of 50 characters, and you discover that entering -1 as the seed outputs a pun, did you write the pun? No. Did the author of the prng write the pun if it's not a special case, but just a result of the algorithm? No.

You discovered that inputting x into y yields z. Congratulations.

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    I think this answer makes a good point, but I'm not sure the analogy holds. The mapping of inputs to outputs in a prng is (to our perception), totally random. There is no creative process I can follow to get the pun other than randomly guessing inputs. With an AI, the mapping isn't random; I know that a prompt about apples will yield an output about apples. So I can make creative decisions about what prompt to give the AI in order to shape the output. I think discovery definitely plays a big role, but it's not just discovery; there is an element of creation to it as well
    – T Hummus
    Jul 2, 2023 at 20:24
  • @THummus: it’s a simplified scenario yes, your question about apples is unlikely to get answers about textiles, but you are still digging for results. You aren’t creating answers, you are looking for questions that yield answers you like. That’s a creative process, it’s just not one that applies to the answer.
    – jmoreno
    Jul 2, 2023 at 20:29
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    Ok yeah, I see what you mean. A scientist may follow a creative process, but scientists don't create results the same way an artist creates a painting
    – T Hummus
    Jul 2, 2023 at 20:36
  • @THummus: exactly.
    – jmoreno
    Jul 2, 2023 at 20:37
  • -1 Then again, for a little while I wanted to learn 3D modelling, and I remember this scene I had 'created' with ready made assets. All I was doing in essence was moving the assets (their coordinates). The final creative output would be classically attributed to me and/or the authors of the assets, but nobody would classically argue that I was 'discovering a composition' rather than creating a work. Jul 3, 2023 at 3:30
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If we take a tool and make an object, no one says 'ah did the make of the tool actually make that object?' or 'ah is the object the result of a plurality of supply chain forces?'. No. You wielded the tool to fashion its output.

The output from this kind of tool can change each time we press its proverbial button. Sometimes the change is because of internal random numbers that are part of the working of the tool. In such case, enough 'retries' would let you see most or every variant of that randomness.

The output from this kind of tool can change because it's software on someone else's computer, and they deploy new code. The tool is more of a service in that sense. But if you got them to not change the code on you, or you ran the code on your computer, it would not change in this specific way.

Many artists spatter paint in random ways. No one asks "did the air make this painting" even though we know that we've used 'another force' to introduce a source of randomness.

These AI tools are summations of vectors that associate things, and your use of the tool is much the same as a search query that binds together a route through all the vectors. You created nothing, since you can only discover by querying what is there. What you render with it is constrained by the limits of possible permutation of all language that the tool was given. When you have it output words/writing, you are invisibly (topologically) constrained by what is possible to say in the grammar of your language

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For me, the most intuitive answer is that the end product was created by a combination of you and the AI tool operating together. As every event in the universe is a result of multiple, or many, conditions or factors.

We often like to assign a single main cause to events by asking "what" (implying an inanimate source) or "who" (implying a human source) but these English constructs can be misleading.

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The result is a derivative work. So, small percentage you, small percentage the creators of the model, vast majority the creative people whose works were used to produce the derivative work that is the "AI" model and the derivative work you obtained using the AI model. Usually those creative people are unknown (at least to you), uncredited, and victims of copyright infringement and infringement against their "moral rights" as authors against others falsely claiming authorship over the their creations.

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The answer is in your question. The AI created the output. You prompted the AI to create the output. The AI's author created the AI. The AI was trained on material created by millions of authors. By conflating the separate roles of the various entities, you are causing your own confusion. Often an event is a consequence of multiple factors. If you try to attribute the cause of the event to one of the factors you are making a mistake.

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Perhaps if we use a familiar philosophical concept pair necessary-sufficent we can make some sense of this conundrum.
You, the AI, the AI author - all 3 - are necessary to the ccreative process. However, each by itself is not sufficient for the same.

  1. The AI author creates the AI.
  2. You seed the AI with an idea.
  3. The AI runs with it.

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