Microsoft AI boss doesn’t seem to know what humans will do when his tech balloons

Last week, chief executive officer of Microsoft AI Mustafa Suleyman sat down with CNBC’s Andrew Sorkin at the Aspen Ideas Festival to talk about artificial intelligence.

The interview flew under the radar until the weekend when a clip of Suleyman started to trend on social media. In response to a question from Sorkin about ownership of content that AI firms use to train their models, going so far as to directly ask if AI companies had stolen content, the CEO had this to say.

“I think that’s a very fair argument. I think that with respect to content that is already on the open web, the social contract of that content since the 90s has been that it is fair use. Any one can copy it, recreate with it, reproduce with it. That has been freeware, if you like, that’s been the understanding. There’s a separate category where a website, or a publisher, or a news organisation had explicitly said do not scrape or crawl for any other reason than indexing me so that other people can find that content. That’s a grey area and I think that’s going to work it’s way through the courts,” the CEO said.

The exchange quoted above begins at 14:25.

Elaborating on that final point, Suleyman says that content that was protected and used to train models wasn’t right and is being litigated. This is in reference to several lawsuits faced by OpenAI and many other AI companies.

As for all content on the internet being free use, that simply isn’t the case, especially not in the US where Microsoft is domiciled.

Then things take a turn as the CEO begins evangelising AI as the next leap forward in generating knowledge at “zero marginal cost”. However, we feel this is a loaded comment because the assumption on the CEO’s part is that knowledge is created with huge data centres or there is some huge cost associated with coming up with new ideas and that’s not the case at all.

The ideas that have made humanity what it is today weren’t born on a computer, they came from a human. Yes, computers have helped us reach solutions faster, but the idea comes from a real human, moulded by their experiences with other humans.

AI meanwhile is telling us to glue cheese to pizza. Socrates would be proud.

What Suleyman envisions is a world where the job of coming up with new ideas – both scientific and cultural – is left to machines. What are humans meant to do?

We don’t know, the CEO says we should embrace the technology and not be fearful of it. In fact, he really dances around the question Sorkin poses, stating that kids should learn from others “as quickly as possible” which is as vague as it gets. He also harps on about information being shared at a massive rate – which means little to the person who lost their job as a call centre agent.

According to the Microsoft big-wig, we should all just learn how to use the AI tools that his firm and others make and use those to… erm, write books or something. Again, Suleyman isn’t exactly clear as to what we do when all the jobs are being done by robots.

He does however concede that there is a concentration of power in the space and this attracts investment, allowing the likes of Microsoft and OpenAI to race ahead of the pack.

And therein lies the problem. When you’re at the top of the tree, it’s awfully hard to see the folks on the ground. For a company like Microsoft or OpenAI, scraping the contents of YouTube for a video generation platform may not seem like a big deal but for the person who is earning money off of creating content, hiring artists to make thumbnails and coming up with fresh ideas, it is a big deal.

The struggling artist who makes rent by selling commissions on X is impacted by tools like Midjourney, all in the name of making a hard-earned skill available to all.

The problem with this thinking is that if everybody can do it, the value of a skill decreases. Being able to drum up copy for a website in seconds means copywriters who have worked for years to hone their craft are obsolete. Why pay a videographer, editor, scriptwriter and others to create a corporate video when you can just plug a few prompts into Sora?

The forward march of AI is unstoppable and that’s where many of the fears around AI tend to be born. If jobs and skills that only humans used to possess are now shared with computers, what are the humans meant to do? There has yet to be a coherent statement about this from a leader in the AI space that doesn’t boil down to repetitive PR spin.

As we noted in our recent episode of Geeks Love Lists, lawmakers are yet to catch up with AI technology and in the meantime, real lives are being impacted.

Suleyman was mistaken in saying the quiet part about AI out-loud but this isn’t the first time a staffer from an AI firm has been caught spinning or without a response when asked about the content they use to train their models.

In the world of these AI firms, we are but organisms that will feed their creations, enriching their bottom lines, and fuelling the great knowledge creation machines they seem to think we all want.

All we wanted was something that would make our digital lives a bit easier, what we got instead was a threat to our most basic joys.


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