ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE OP-ED: Does Artificial Intelligence Mark the End of the Open Internet?

Large language models like ChatGPT rely on massive amounts of data to produce their output, and that data is spread across an existing ecosystem of social media networks like Reddit. Among other platforms, Reddit has recently wised up and started charging for access. This decision is an example of how innovation in one part of the technology world can force change in another.

These changes can have further knock-on effects: Reddit’s decision to raise the cost of using APIs may result in the exclusion of third-party innovators. The founding culture of the Internet was open source, open access, and contributor guidance. Rising costs and privatization of data raise the walls of the Internet, making it more difficult for new entrants.

But it also leaves contributors to these platforms oftentimes users like you and me left out of the action.

Key questions about selling data (for generative AI or otherwise) remain unanswered: who will lose the most ambitious innovators, social networks or artificial intelligence platforms?

Above all, should we who contribute to the platform economy be adequately compensated?

Much of the stuff we consume online comes from all of us contributing our user-generated content, whether it’s on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Wikipedia, or many others. Our voluntary generation of all this data provides platforms with a treasure trove for third-party users, which they access through an application programming interface (API).

Recognizing the value of this, Reddit announced its plan to retire its public APIs and began demanding payment, despite protests from its loyal users.

Twitter, a similar but smaller conversation platform, which has also been a key input into AI data training models started charging for API access. This new monetization of previously free or affordable access will affect the entire online ecosystem. While large companies and investor-backed apps can undoubtedly afford these new charges, most small operators cannot. The impact on innovation, fair access, competition and user experience could be huge.

This isn’t the first time Reddit content has been repurposed for commercial gain or as media content.

Additionally, there is an issue of fair compensation and attribution. None of us expected compensation for our photos, jokes or comments, nor necessarily for the laborious and meticulous research of Wikipedians, or the free-use photography of Pexels photographers that is so widely used, or for that matter any of the artwork, analyses, tutorials and recipes that we put online. Yet we did it out of altruism and perhaps sometimes out of recognition, a fundamentally human intent to help our communities and be seen by them.

Read more about Daily Maverick: The real danger of ChatGPT lies in robbing us of our ability to critically read and research

One study estimated that Reddit moderatorsmake more than $3.4 millioninto unpaid labor every year and send valuable traffic to Reddit through third-party apps like Reddit is Fun and Apollo, relying heavily on open-access APIs that have been more affordable until now. Reddit themselves, the real value of the platform, also do unpaid work when they come to Reddit to engage in conversation.

As a longtime Redditor, this isn’t the first time Reddit content has been repurposed for commercial gain or as media content. The content has long been taken by Redditors and repurposed into weird compilation videos on YouTube that are monetized and generate revenue for their anonymous creators.

Newspapers found it easy to fill the space by chronicling Redditor’s notable opinions and observations on particular topics. Exploitation in one form or another has occurred.

But the Reddit API’s response to the move tells us something about a new strength of sentiment. It was rumored that during the Reddit blackout more than 50% of his subreddits were inactive and user engagement decreased. While some users continued to use the site, they spammed the subreddits with photo by John Oliver.

I quoted in a previous article that the productivity paradox occurs as people adjust to new technology use cases, which sometimes increases spending and delays the impact of productivity gains as new adjustments are made. Sometimes these new technologies are prone to lock-in, or interact poorly with existing technologies that are well established, or the inherent challenges of large-scale business become apparent later on.

Dirty work

For AI, the question is really, even if it seems free for now, at whose expense? There is already tiered access for AI, is that necessarily right?

AI has raised an existential question about compensation on multiple fronts.

Content moderation to flag disturbing content still relies on human labor and human discretion. OpenAI used outsourced Kenyan workers earning less than $2 an hour for reporting disturbing content including sexual abuse, bestiality, murder, suicide, torture, self-harm and incest. Even though the workers were offered advice, they pointed out that they were discouraged from using it due to the high pressure to be productive.

The traumatic nature of the job ultimately led the outsourcing firm, Sama, to cancel all of its work for OpenAI in February 2022, eight months ahead of schedule. There is a risk that the dirty work of technology will be outsourced to developing countries, without adequate compensation and without the social and health support systems to protect and sustain them.

Read more about Daily Maverick: Artificial intelligence is moving much faster than the speed of evolution. Could we be in trouble?

While the fallout of cryptocurrencies in 2022 onwards multiple fronts, including FTXhas cooled the affection for the blockchain, Web3, using decentralized blockchain technology to ensure that user content is permanently associated with itself rather than hosted in a particular platform, remains an interesting potential solution to some of the content and compensation problems for social media and artificial intelligence. Web Evangelists3 argue that it is possible to compensate users fairly through a decentralized structure and with strong privacy protections.

But these competing proposals are not yet tangible, and so regulation often fills the gaps. The state is increasingly involved in the AI ​​conversation. Already countries around the world are approaching ChatGPT and its peers with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

Countries like since Italy and China banned ChatGPT in March, but have since lifted those bans. The EU has released the AI ​​law which aims to ensure the safe use of AI and supervision by people rather than automation to prevent harmful outcomes. The ever-innovative UK is considering a strategic state to develop new capabilities to address AI challenges, with proposals for an AI regulator both to regulate the market and to promote innovation and fair and open access.

We are faced with a powerful new technology, as we have done many times before. Nuclear technology can be used for both bombs and clean energy. Social media can be used to rig elections, but it can also connect communities in powerful ways. The first innovation of all, fire, given to us by Prometheus himself, can burn forests but it can also cook food and warm us. It takes society at all levels to ensure that the adoption and use of technology is fair and safe and serves us all. DM

Emma Ruiters is one technology and public policy analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.


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