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OpenAI’s DALL-E 2 is the great technical equivalent of ‘soylent green’

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This article contains spoilers for the 1973 film”Soylent Green.”

It’s been a hot AI summer here for anyone with the slightest interest in applying the ‘art’ in artificial intelligence. I’m talking about DALL-E 2 and OpenAI’s announcement that its incredible text-to-art generator would be entering closed beta.

Most exciting of all, another million people gain access to DALL-E 2. Woohoo! Let’s do a cartwheel.

Greetings, Humanoids

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In front: There would be no more cartwheels in the Neural offices of TNW that day.

DALL-E 2 is, in this humble editor’s opinion, a scam. But that’s nothing new in the technology world. Facebook is a scam. Google is a scam. Microsoft is a scam. They all benefit from something that has nothing to do with what they tell us they are selling.

If you’re a bricklayer, you’re a bricklayer. And if you write programs, you are a programmer. But if you’re selling ads in 2022, you’re probably a search giant or a social media company. It doesn’t have to make sense, as long as it’s profitable.

For the most part, big tech makes its profit by convincing you to be the product. Why try to sell a TV to everyone on Earth, when it’s easier and more profitable to find a TV manufacturer that will pay you to access ads for just about everyone on Earth?

The data we generate is the foundation for the products these companies sell. The deal we make with them is pretty much you can use our data to improve the product we login to. And in practice, that basically means we’re cool with Meta using our browsing data to help advertisers target us as long as we can keep playing Candy Crush for free.

Background: DALL-E 2 is a nice extension of OpenAI’s transformer model, currently iterated as “GPT-3”. Text prompts are needed and they are converted to images. It is mind boggling and will absolutely 100% revolutionize the world of content creation.

Let me be very clear here: I love it. I love it. It’s a technological triumph and the whole world deserves access to it (with the gigantic caveat that OpenAI must make it secure).

However, sale accessing it is dangerous. It’s not just unethical. It could represent a significant shift from the current level of exploitation that big techs can get away with to a paradigm where big tech essentially turns us into the digital equivalent of Soylent Green.

Spoiler alert: Soylent Green is an old movie, but it’s a classic. I’m going to spoil the giant twist in this movie now, so you better surf away if that’s going to be a problem.

According to the film, humanity is on the brink of starvation in a distant future. To survive, the government gives them nutrition bars and that’s all most people ever eat. One day they come up with a new flavor called “Soylent Green”. Everyone loves it and luckily it is produced in abundance. Unfortunately, Soylent Green turns out to be human. To solve the hunger problem, the government started processing dead people and feeding them to us.

So two things:

  1. As I remember Soylent Green was actually free – Haven’t seen it in a while, I’m sure a reader will correct me if I’m wrong.
  2. It would be impossible to eat a Soylent Green bar made from your own corpse.

I bring all of that up because it explains my problem with OpenAI selling access to DALL-E 2.

My opinion: Giving people access to DALL-E 2, with certain protections, created an environment where everyone can read what I would call the library of human images as interpreted by means of a transformer model.

But the moment OpenAI turned DALL-E 2 into a monetization service (OpenAI allows you to buy credits for use beyond your beta limit), it turned our data into a product and started selling it back to us.

It went from a library of art that we could all (potentially) enjoy, to a for-profit venture. OpenAI even makes it explicit (in the linked post above) that those with access to the beta have a legal right to ownership of any artwork the model produces at their request.

Who gave OpenAI the right to sell ownership of images that our data helped create?

It’s easy to make the comparison with a writer who reads a lot of books and then uses that inspiration to create a new book.

But that’s not what DALL-E 2 does. Don’t focus on the ‘art’ aspect of it. When we descale the model, the DALL-E 2 takes a picture, holds it and gives it to you when you ask.

If it has eight pictures of the ocean, and you tell it to give you one, it will. But since DALL-E 2 is an agent that only exists in a digital world, it can do things that wouldn’t be practical in the physical world.

It can merge those eight photos and make them into one photo. And it can even be refined to decide if eight is the right number of shots to snap together or if six is ​​enough. Maybe ten?

Eventually, OpenAI gets to the point where its model merges millions or billions of images together. It’s still the same trick.

Finishing: Data is data and output is output. It doesn’t matter if it’s art, text or advertising profiles. When Facebook collects your data, it sells that data to advertisers so you can play more Candy Crush.

When OpenAI takes your data, it has never had your consent. You never checked a box or logged into a website that explicitly informed you that any images you put online would be used to train OpenAI’s profitable AI system.

And that means that whether it’s super fun like Candy Crush or super handy like facial recognition, OpenAI exploits you and your data every time someone buys access to the DALL-E 2 model.

The company took your data and trained a model so well that you don’t need to be a futurist to know that DALL-E will ultimately be as critical to design as Photoshop is today.

However, the difference between Adobe and OpenAI is that Adobe gets your permission to train its AI on your data.

No one ever asked me if I wanted my face in Clearview AI’s or OpenAI’s database, and I feel the same way they both make money from it.

This sets an obscure and dangerous priority for using scraped data in the future.

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