As has been recently widely reported (BBC, Financial Times and The Times), a number of patent applications have been filed designating a machine learning (ML) algorithm as an inventor. The aim of the applications appears to kickstart a conversation on how patent law could be changed to take account of AI inventorship.
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Despite all the media attention, details about how the AI inventor actually invents are sparse. The reportedly inventive algorithm is covered by its own patent (US 2015/0379394) and was itself invented by Dr Stephen Thaler. A look at Dr Thaler’s company website (Imagination Engines) reveals that Dr Thaler purports to have invented neural networks that manifest “near-death experiences”. The networks also exhibit “a stream of consciousness” and “contemplate, invent, and discover”. The inventive AI is based on Dr Thaler’s “master equation that quantitatively predicts the rhythm of idea generation”.
Despite the potentially revolutionary nature of his inventions, Dr Thaler has not published examples in which his “Creative Machines” are tested according to the standards tests for AI algorithms (e.g. as would be demanded for a publication at a major ML conference, such as NeurIPS, ICML or ICLR). If Dr Thaler has “derived a master equation that quantitatively predicts the rhythm of idea generation”, it would be normal to expect evidence of these quantitative predictions.
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Another intriguing (and unanswered) question is how the algorithm articulates its invention. The patent application claims seem to have been drafted by a patent attorney. The University of Surrey press release indicates that Dr Thaler is working with an international team of patent attorneys from Williams Powell, Flashpoint IP, Dennemeyer and Fuchs IP. In what form was the “invention” output from the algorithm handed to the patent attorneys? Was it in the form of words, pictures, a time series? How did the algorithm communicate the invention? Does it talk? The patent applications and press releases are unclear on these points. Patent offices and patent laws do not require human inventors to explain how they arrived at an invention. It is therefore unclear whether the patent offices will want to see evidence of how the algorithm actually invents.
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If, for the sake of argument, we assume that Dr Thaler’s algorithm is capable of performing a creative inventive act, does it therefore make sense to name the algorithm as an inventor? This question was considered from the US perspective over on IPwatchdog.
The team behind the applications, who include Professor in Law at the University of Surrey, Ryan Abbott, argue that it should be permitted to name machines as inventors. The team argue that the algorithm was responsible for the inventive concept behind the patent applications, and that the algorithm would meet the criteria for inventorship if it was a natural person. The team also argue that allowing machines to be named as inventors would stimulate innovation into inventive machines. Therefore, acknowledging machines as inventors would help protect the moral rights of human inventors.
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Thus, whilst Dr Thaler insists that he is prohibited from listing himself as an inventor of the applications “because he has not contributed to the conception of the instant invention”, Dr Thaler maintains that he should have a right to the algorithm’s inventions. If another party were to use the algorithm to invent another invention, Dr Thaler and the team at the University of Surrey maintain that this invention would belong to Dr Thaler. But how does Dr Thaler derive this right from the algorithm inventor?
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It appears to this Kat that Dr Thaler’s insistence that he should be the owner of the algorithm’s inventions undermines his argument that the algorithm is the inventor. By insisting that he is the owner of the algorithm’s inventions, he is accepting that he has some rights to the invention which presumably derive from the fact that he invented the algorithm.
Link to the rest at IPKat
PG says the intersection between artificial intelligence and patent law is one that certain types of people could argue about ad infinitum. In the United States, Congress will probably settle the question from a legal standpoint several years following the issuance of conflicting court rulings on the subject.
As far as authors of books are concerned, it is a more interesting question about whether a random sentence generator of significant power could create a literary work that would qualify for copyright protection somewhere in the world.
PG used TextFixer to create the following literary work:
The growing course names into the far-flung birthday. What if the abnormal rub ate the command?
Is the depend direction better than the net? Did the valid passion really include the dirt?
The crushing desk can’t comb the ability. The energetic landscape can’t hand the error.
What if the clumsy transportation ate the impress? It was then the parsimonious girl met the shallow gas.
© PG’s Computer, Ralph, writing as Lucille Caramba, 2019
PG thinks there may be potential for a romance series based upon parsimonious girls meeting shallow gas provided that “women” is substituted for “girls.”
He is certain that all parsimonious women must be attractive and somewhere, there is an ideal, heavily-muscled, flowing-haired model who was born to be the illustrative representation of shallow gas.