Large language models like ChatGPT are only as good as the data on which they are trained, and increasingly the gatekeepers of this data are looking to capitalize on the new-found, generative artificial intelligence (AI)-fueled demand. A recent revolt by moderators on the social forum Reddit illustrates this trend. Reddit’s plan to charge for access to its application programming interface (API)—which is a virtual firehose that spits out all content posted to Reddit in a developer-friendly format—has sparked acrimony among the Reddit community.
Tension is brewing between the steady march of AI and the longstanding spirit of the open internet, where access to information is presumed to be free and control is decentralized. To help discern the fault lines in this hastening turf war, Double Take welcomed AI ethicist and startup founder Kelvin Lwin, who was formerly a senior deep learning instructor at chip giant Nvidia. According to Lwin, open APIs have allowed platforms to spawn and scale innovations at a faster clip than they ever could have done on their own, but the advent of paywalled AI models changes that proposition.
Every platform, I think, wanted to become an ecosystem. So you want to encourage developers, right?…It’s the right intuition, but then that opens yourself (up) to these kinds of seminal moments now where it comes to a head—where developers have different incentives, the platform owners have different incentives, but everybody’s trying to make money. So then, who gets to eat?Kelvin Lwin, founder and chief executive officer of ALIN.ai
Lwin explains that an awkward middle ground has developed, where open-source data on platforms such as Reddit is considered “free to use” yet at the same time “not for commercial use.”
I think, generally, it’s a very inherent problem in our tech field because all of us want to help the world and contribute to the world, so open source sounds good on paper. But then, when you actually have these monetization and business model pressures, what we usually have seen is that open-source projects themselves, if they’re not supported by some profit-making entity, they tend to die off.Kelvin Lwin
From Lwin’s perspective, the secret sauce of a large language model is a blend of the source data that feeds the algorithm, and the method by which that data is wrangled through the model to produce an output.
Who gets to determine which recipe(s) prevail, and who if anyone could the recipe(s) enrich? Lwin suggests that these questions may be key in the development of AI.
In general, decentralization was the ethos of technology in Silicon Valley in general, right? That’s why you get the Bitcoin and blockchain and all those decentralization kinds of things. And then there was a joke that, how come for all the talks about decentralization, everybody was happy with over 100 million users going and relying on one company’s API, ChatGPT, overnight?…I would argue AI is actually a trend toward more centralization because you have all this data, sensory capacity, compute (capacity) and pattern recognition capacity. So, can you make centralized decision-making? Probably.…There’s an underlying bigger arms race going on with what is the right model to get it out to the people.Kelvin Lwin
According to Lwin, even platforms such as Reddit that are expressly decentralized are experiencing a tilt toward centralization of control.
It has a decentralized model in terms of the users, the content, the moderators, right?…But then from the company point of view, especially when they’re trying to monetize it or really prop up the value, then it becomes centralized, right? The CEO is making the decisions on the APIs…Then the users are going, ‘I thought we own this platform?’…‘I thought this is a place for us?’ Because they don’t have to care about making money and (being) profitable and things like that, but the CEO and the centralized, the corporate entity do. So I see it as, again, the fight between the two modes of thinking.Kelvin Lwin
Lwin anticipates the ramifications of this showdown to be profound and pervasive.
I think we are at a critical juncture of humanity in some ways. What it means to be human, what can humans do, what can technology or AI or robots do? All this sort of stuff that was in the realm of philosophy and religion, kind of entering the public discourse…Remember, AI only learns from the example we give it.Kelvin Lwin
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