Lawsuit against ChatGPT creator shows the creepiness of AI

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This was bound to happen. 

OpenAI, the tech company responsible for developing the artificial intelligence chatbot known as ChatGPT, is being sued over its practice of scraping other people’s information from the internet in order to provide users of the tool with seemingly human responses. 

Microsoft, a major investor in OpenAI, is also named as a defendant. OpenAI and Microsoft do not appear to have publicly commented on the lawsuit.

The class-action lawsuit strikes at the heart of generative AI tools that appear to create content from “scratch,” like ChatGPT. In reality, such chatbots are built to scour the internet (including social media platforms) to inform their responses.

For those who aren’t techies, think of chatbots like a super-powered internet search. While you historically would type in a term and then receive a list of links, chatbot responses rapidly search the internet for content that’s already been created, as well as other information that may exist on the web, and synthesize the findings into a human-sounding response

The lawsuit claims OpenAI engages in theft when its technology does this:

Using stolen and misappropriated personal information at scale, Defendants have created powerful and wildly profitable AI and released it into the world without regard for the risks. In so doing, Defendants have created an AI arms race in which Defendants and other Big Tech companies are onboarding society into a plane that over half of the surveyed AI experts believe has at least a 10% chance of crashing and killing everyone on board.

(Note: OpenAI isn’t the only company creating generative AI tools, though it’s arguably the most popular. Hence the “arms race” line in the quote above.)

The lawsuit accuses OpenAI of scraping data belonging to millions of users, including online conversations, location data and other personal information that the company is able to obtain through third-party applications. The suit lists Spotify, Stripe, Slack, Snapchat, Microsoft Teams and the health app MyChart as some of the third parties that allow OpenAI access to user data.

OpenAI secretly harvests “massive amounts of personal data from the internet,” the suit claims, “including private information and private conversations, medical data, information about children—essentially every piece of data exchanged on the internet it could take—without notice to the owners or users of such data, much less with anyone’s permission.”

The lawsuit doesn’t list the plaintiffs’ names beyond initials — in order to “avoid intrusive scrutiny as well as any potentially dangerous backlash” — but it does offer details about their claims.

Some of the plaintiffs say they’re worried that their online content could be used to help replace human workers with robots. For example, the lawsuit says one educator is “concerned that Defendants have taken her skills and expertise, as reflected in her online contributions, and incorporated it into Products that could someday result in professional obsolescence for professors and educators like her.” 

It’s no overstatement to say this lawsuit could slow — if not completely alter — the fast-moving world of generative AI.

The suit also claims that without “this unprecedented theft of private and copyrighted information belonging to real people, communicated to unique communities, for specific purposes, targeting specific audiences, the Products would not be the multi-billion-dollar business they are today.”

It’s no overstatement to say this lawsuit could slow — if not completely alter — the fast-moving world of generative AI. Visual artists whose works have been scraped by AI tools have already filed at least one class-action suit of their own, claiming this amounts to copyright infringement. Several musicians have spoken out against the use of generative AI in their industry as well.

But professional artists and creators clearly aren’t the only ones with skin in the game here, as the latest lawsuit suggests. Everyone who uses the internet should be invested in making sure our data isn’t being used — to great profit and potential peril — by some of the most powerful tech companies in the world.

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