Lawsuit Takes Aim at the Way AI Is Built

A programmer is suing Microsoft, GitHub and OpenAI over artificial intelligence technology that generates its own computer code. From a report: In late June, Microsoft released a new kind of artificial intelligence technology that could generate its own computer code. Called Copilot, the tool was designed to speed the work of professional programmers. As they typed away on their laptops, it would suggest ready-made blocks of computer code they could instantly add to their own. Many programmers loved the new tool or were at least intrigued by it. But Matthew Butterick, a programmer, designer, writer and lawyer in Los Angeles, was not one of them. This month, he and a team of other lawyers filed a lawsuit that is seeking class-action status against Microsoft and the other high-profile companies that designed and deployed Copilot.

Like many cutting-edge A.I. technologies, Copilot developed its skills by analyzing vast amounts of data. In this case, it relied on billions of lines of computer code posted to the internet. Mr. Butterick, 52, equates this process to piracy, because the system does not acknowledge its debt to existing work. His lawsuit claims that Microsoft and its collaborators violated the legal rights of millions of programmers who spent years writing the original code. The suit is believed to be the first legal attack on a design technique called “A.I. training,” which is a way of building artificial intelligence that is poised to remake the tech industry. In recent years, many artists, writers, pundits and privacy activists have complained that companies are training their A.I. systems using data that does not belong to them.

The lawsuit has echoes in the last few decades of the technology industry. In the 1990s and into the 2000s, Microsoft fought the rise of open source software, seeing it as an existential threat to the future of the company’s business. As the importance of open source grew, Microsoft embraced it and even acquired GitHub, a home to open source programmers and a place where they built and stored their code. Nearly every new generation of technology — even online search engines — has faced similar legal challenges. Often, “there is no statute or case law that covers it,” said Bradley J. Hulbert, an intellectual property lawyer who specializes in this increasingly important area of the law.

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