Porn, AI and Open Source Ethics

Google Gave the World Powerful AI Tools, and the World Made Porn With Them by Dave Gershgorn.

From the post:

In 2015, Google announced it would release its internal tool for developing artificial intelligence algorithms, TensorFlow, a move that would change the tone of how AI research and development would be conducted around the world. The means to build technology that could have an impact as profound as electricity, to borrow phrasing from Google’s CEO, would be open, accessible, and free to use. The barrier to entry was lowered from a Ph.D to a laptop.

But that also meant TensorFlow’s undeniable power was now out of Google’s control. For a little over two years, academia and Silicon Valley were still the ones making the biggest splashes with the software, but now that equation is changing. The catalyst is deepfakes, an anonymous Reddit user who built around AI software that automatically stitches any image of a face (nearly) seamlessly into a video. And you can probably imagine where this is going: As first reported by Motherboard, the software was being used to put anyone’s face, such as a famous woman or friend on Facebook, on the bodies of porn actresses.

After the first Motherboard story, the user created their own subreddit, which amassed more than 91,000 subscribers. Another Reddit user called deepfakeapp has also released a tool called FakeApp, which allows anyone to download the AI software and use it themselves, given the correct hardware. As of today, Reddit has banned the community, saying it violated the website’s policy on involuntary pornography.

According to FakeApp’s user guide, the software is built on top of TensorFlow. Google employees have pioneered similar work using TensorFlow with slightly different setups and subject matter, training algorithms to generate images from scratch. And there are plenty of potentially fun (if not inane) uses for deepfakes, like putting Nicolas Cage in a bunch of different movies. But let’s be real: 91,000 people were subscribed to deepfakes’ subreddit for the porn.

While much good has come from TensorFlow being open source, like potential cancer detection algorithms, FakeApp represents the dark side of open source. Google (and Microsoft and Amazon and Facebook) have loosed immense technological power on the world with absolutely no recourse. Anyone can download AI software and use it for anything they have the data to create. That means everything from faking political speeches (with help from the cadre of available voice-imitating AI) to generating fake revenge porn. All digital media is a series of ones and zeroes, and artificial intelligence is proving itself proficient at artfully arranging them to generate things that never happened.

You can imagine the rest or read the rest of Gershgon’s (deep voice): “dark side of open source.”

While you do, remember that Gershgon would have made the same claims about:

  1. Telephones
  2. Photography
  3. Cable television
  4. Internet
  5. etc.

The simplest rejoinder is that the world did not create porn with AI. A tiny subset of the world signed up to see porn created by an even smaller subset of the world.

The next simplest rejoinder is the realization that Gershgon wants a system that dictates ethics to users of open source software. Gershgon should empower an agency to enforce ethics on journalists and check back in a couple of years to report on their experience.

I’m willing to be ahead of time it won’t be a happy report.

Bottom line: Leave the ethics of open source software to the people using such software. May not always have a happy outcome but will always be better than the alternatives.

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