The First AI Inventor

15 August 2019

From IPKat:

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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?

. . . .

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.

When Good Sites Go Bad: the Growing Risk of Website Accessibility Litigation

15 August 2019

From The National Law Review:

For a growing number of companies, websites are not only a valuable asset, but also a potential liability risk. In recent years, the number of website accessibility lawsuits has significantly increased, where plaintiffs with disabilities allege that they could not access websites because they were incompatible with assistive technologies, like screen readers for the visually impaired.

If you have never asked yourself whether your website is “accessible,” or think that this issue doesn’t apply to your company, read on to learn why website accessibility litigation is on the rise, what actions lawmakers and the courts are taking to try to stem the tide, how to manage litigation risk, what steps you can take to bring your company’s website into compliance, and how to handle customer feedback on issues of accessibility.

. . . .

In recent years, there has been a nationwide explosion of website accessibility lawsuits as both individual lawsuits and class actions. Plaintiffs have brought these claims in federal court under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and, in some cases, under similar state and local laws as well. In 2018, the number of federally-filed website accessibility cases skyrocketed to 2,285, up from 815 in the year prior. In the first half of 2019, these cases have increased 51.7% over the prior year’s comparable six-month period, with total filings for 2019 on pace to break last year’s record by reaching over 3,200.

. . . .

The ADA was enacted in 1990 to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in locations generally open to the public (known as public accommodations). The ADA specified the duties of businesses and property owners to make their locations accessible for people with disabilities, but it was enacted before conducting business transactions over the internet became commonplace. With the rapid growth of internet use, lawsuits emerged arguing that websites were places of public accommodation under the meaning of the ADA.

These claims have presented serious questions about whether, when, and how website owners must comply with the ADA. There is no legislation that directly sets out the technical requirements for website accessibility. And while the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that “the ADA applies to public accommodations’ websites,” it has not clarified exactly what standards websites must meet to comply with the law. In the absence of clear guidance, courts considering the question have frequently looked to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines(WCAG), first developed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in 1999, but most recently updated in 2018.

. . . .

Knowing your level of exposure is an important first step. Individual risk is currently based on three factors:

  • Location: Brick and mortar locations, the delivery of products, or the performance of services in New York or Florida heighten a company’s exposure.
  • Industry: The present trend shows that retail, food service, hospitality, banking, entertainment industries, and educational institutions are especially at risk.
  • Current website structure: Sites with e-commerce functions or purchased from third-party developers not currently in compliance with WCAG standards are popular targets.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to predict the cost and complexity of bringing a website into WCAG compliance based simply on viewing it. An audit of the source code is often required. That said, you can start with a review of your site and develop plans and processes for accessibility. The first steps can include:

  • Assess current compliance: Use free online tools like wave and chrome vox and/or enlist a third-party audit to help you understand your current level of accessibility.
  • Plan for future compliance: Create an overall plan for achieving accessibility on a timeline that makes business sense.
  • Take immediate action: Adopt first-step improvements that can be implemented immediately, and create a process for considering accessibility before all future implementations.

Link to the rest at The National Law Review

In general, this type of litigation is handled by attorneys on a contingency-fee basis, which means that an assessment of how large the defendant is and whether he/she/it has liability insurance to satisfy a claim are important preliminary steps counsel is likely to take.

This means that AT&T is more likely to be sued than Janet Johnson, aspiring romance author with a website, is.

PG ran the free online tool mentioned above, WAVE, on TPV, and the program reported over 100 items PG should fix so TPV is accessible. One example is that the photo of the old book at the top left of each page of TPV has no ALT tag that would tell visually-impaired visitors to the blog using a screen reader what the content of the photo is.

The other free online tool mentioned in the OP, ChromeVox, is a Chrome screen reader plugin. Once installed and activated, you can hear what a vision-impaired visitor to your website will encounter.

The OP has provided PG with added impetus to bring the WordPress Theme for TPV up to date. He ran a Google search for ada compliant WordPress themes and found an extensive list.

Latvian Publishers Association Demands a Cut in the VAT Rate on Book

15 August 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Latvian Publishers’ Association has called on the country’s government to cut the VAT on books to 5 percent, restoring the rate to what it was prior to 2008–when the tax skyrocketed to 21 percent.

Founded in 1993, the association has some 35 publishers responsible for about two-thirds of the titles published in Latvia, and close to 75 percent of the industry’s annual revenues. Over the past years, the association has engaged in a number of initiatives to promote Latvian authors in various foreign markets. In 2018, Latvia joined Lithuania and Estonia in a three-way Market Focus program at the London Book Fair.

. . . .

Renāte Punka, the association’s chair, says that the impact of the 2009 spike in VAT has been crippling. Originally put into place at 5 percent in 2004 in alignment with European Union guidelines, it was raised to a staggering 23 percent on January 1, 2009, before being reduced only to 21 percent and later to 12 percent.

The country’s book sales and the number of new titles published each year have never returned to their pre-crisis levels, Punka says.

. . . .

“The discussions about the VAT have been on the agenda of Latvian publishers since the end of 2008,” Punka says, “when, at the height of the economic crisis, the Latvian government–among other drastic measures to stabilize the situation that were implemented over a fortnight–canceled the reduced VAT on books, and the VAT rate rose from 5 percent to that 21-percent point.

“During the next eight months, the book market almost crashed,” Punka tells Publishing Perspectives. “We have raised the question about the possibility to reduce the VAT on books, including ebooks, which are taxed at a full rate of 21 percent at the moment.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Indigo Sees Another Quarterly Sales Drop

14 August 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Sales at Indigo, Canada’s leading book retailer, continue to slide. The company reported a total comparable sales decline of 7.6% for the first quarter of its current 2020 fiscal year compared to a year ago, a figure that covers both physical and online sales. Revenue for the first quarter ended June 29, 2019 was C $192.6 million compared to C $205.4 million for the same period last year, a decline of 6.3%. In the last quarter of fiscal 2019, ended March 30, 2019, revenue fell 7.4% compared to the final quarter of fiscal 2018 and comp store sales dropped 8.7%.

Overall, the company reported a first quarter loss of C$19.1 million up from a net loss of C$15.4 million last year.

The sales decline was blamed in part on a “reduction in promotional activity,” while the higher loss was pinned on the decline in sales combined with ongoing restructuring and renovation costs.

CEO Heather Reisman said: “This quarter’s results were in line with our expectations. While we continue to face many of the same headwinds from last year, strategic steps to recharge growth, increase productivity and improve profitability are well underway.”

. . . .

What specific “headwinds” Reisman is referring to was unclear, though as has been noted, the dearth of new bestselling titles may be contributing to the overall fall off in sales.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly


Anti-Tanning Public Service Campaign Targeted All Tanning Salons, Thus Couldn’t Disparage Them

14 August 2019

From Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log:

Appellants, several tanning salons, appealed their dismissal of defamation and product disparagement claims under Nebraska’s Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act (UDTPA). The NCC said negative things about tanning beds generally, not anything about any specific tanning salong.  This wasn’t enough to satisfy the requirement that defamatory or disparaging statements be “of and concerning” appellants.

Appellants “allegedly accounted for between 68 to 71 percent of the known tanning salons in the Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, markets and approximately 14 to 18 percent of all the entities in Nebraska that provide indoor tanning services.”  In 2014, NCC started a campaign named “The Bed is Dead” to educate the public on the dangers of indoor tanning. Statements included: “Tanning Causes More Cancers than Cigarettes”; “Tanning beds have been proven to cause skin cancer”; “Just one indoor tanning session increases your risk of melanoma by 20% and each additional use during the same year boosts risk by another 2%”; and “Tanning is addictive. One study produced withdrawal symptoms in frequent tanners with narcotic antagonists such as are used in emergency rooms. Studies find higher rates of alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in females that tan.” The website also said: “Tanning facilities do not require a license to operate in Nebraska. … In 2010, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission ordered the Indoor Tanning Association to cease false advertising claims: 1) that tanning is safe or healthy, 2) that tanning poses no danger, and 3) that tanning does not increase risk of skin cancer…. Yet, a congressional investigative report two years later found:… Nine out of ten salons DENIED KNOWN RISKS of indoor tanning.”  NCC promoted its websites in many ways, including dermatologist partners who visited Omaha schools and encouraged students to go to the website.

“According to managing staff and employees of appellants, customers asked questions about appellants’ facilities and the dangers of indoor training after visiting appellees’ The Bed is Dead website.”

. . . .

The district court construed the UDTPA, which states that “[a] person engages in a deceptive trade practice when, in the course of his or her business, vocation, or occupation, he or she … [d]isparages the goods, services, or business of another by false or misleading representation of fact” (emphasis added).  The state Supreme Court agreed that this language requires reference to a specific producer’s product, rather than to an entire industry as a whole.  “[T]he Legislature’s use of the ‘of another’ language indicates an incorporation of the same ‘of and concerning’ element present in common-law actions aimed at unfair and deceptive trade practices.”

. . . .

Likewise, defamation requires statements to be “of and concerning” the plaintiff, rather than about a group as a whole. A group libel claim can meet the “of and concerning” requirement “if either the group is so small that the matter can reasonably be understood to refer to the member or the circumstances of publication reasonably give rise to the conclusion that there is a particular reference to the member.” But that wasn’t the case here.

Link to the rest at Rebecca Tushnet’s 43(B)log

PG will note that the OP described a decision of a Nebraska court construing a Nebraska law that is not applicable outside of Nebraska. Additionally, the decision was based in part on the specific wording of the Nebraska statute.

State defamation laws vary across the United States but are all limited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

While it may sometimes appear to visitors to The Passive Voice that Passive Guy has an opinion on everything, he is surprised to discover that he has no opinion on the OP or the underlying litigation described therein.

Mark Twain on Photographs. 

14 August 2019

From DAILY HAWAIIAN HERALD, September 5, 1866 [including a few corrections of typos and inserted paragraph breaks by PG]:

We have just been reading over Sam Clement’s [sic] last letter, and in the following instance, he blunders on so much truth that we have a notion to countermand our order for him to communicate with us. Speaking of photographs he says they are all false, and feelingly remarks,

No photograph ever was good, yet, of anybody – hunger and thirst and utter wretchedness overtake the outlaw who invented it!

It transforms into desperadoes the meekest of men; depicts sinless innocence upon the pictured faces of ruffians; gives the wise man the stupid leer of a fool, and a fool an expression of more than earthly wisdom.

If a man tries to look serious when he sits for his picture the photograph makes him look as solemn as an owl; if he smiles, the photograph smirks repulsively; if he tries to look pleasant, the photograph looks silly; if he makes the fatal mistake of attempting to seem pensive, the camera will surely write him down as an ass.

The sun never looks through the photographic instrument that it does not print a lie.

The piece of glass it prints it on is well named a “negative” – a contradiction- a misrepresentation- a falsehood.

I speak feeling of this matter, because by turns the instrument has represented me to be a lunatic, a Soloman, a missionary, a burglar and an abject idiot, and I am neither.

AAP Objects to Trump’s China Shift: Only Children’s Book Tariffs Delayed

14 August 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

In her statement issued today (August 13), the Association of American Publishers‘ president and CEO Maria A. Pallante has pointed out that the book publishing industry is in no way out of the woods, as Donald Trump’s administration continues its lurching sequence of threats and feints on a proposed US$300 billion in new tariffs on goods imported from China.

“We remain deeply concerned,” Pallante says in her statement, “that a wide range of other books remain on the list, including American fiction and nonfiction books; art books; textbooks; dictionaries and encyclopedias; and technical, scientific and professional books.”

Moving to delay the levy of tariffs on certain classifications of goods until December 15—ostensibly to avoid damaging the American holiday season revenue for many industries—the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) offices in Washington have included (as described on the agency’s listings):

  • 4903.00.40 Children’s picture, drawing, or coloring books
  • 4910.00.20  Calendars printed on paper or paperboard in whole or in part by a lithographic process, not over 0.51 mm in thickness

And Bibles—which perhaps with some irony are said to be printable almost exclusively by Chinese presses—are off the tariff lists.

But, as Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly sums up the remainder, about which Pallante is expressing the association’s concern, “All other [than children’s] books printed in China, including trade, education, and professional titles, are still subject to 10-percent tariffs beginning September 1.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG did a quick and dirty online search to see if he could find the locations of Amazon’s print on demand presses. He found an item that said European POD Amazon books were printed in Europe, but found nothing about KDP hardcopy printing locations elsewhere.

What if Better Penmanship Could Make You a Better Person

14 August 2019

From Medium:

Cursive is supposed to happen at the right speed for steady thought. It hits the page slower than type and faster than print, and in this happy medium, one hopes the mind will hit its stride and think clearly, rationally, linearly. But what if the idea of cursive practice was to humble, even eradicate the content of the written word? That is the project of the narrator in Mario Levrero’s novel Empty Words—recently released in translation from the Spanish by Annie McDermott—to focus on neat, regular handwriting so careful that it smooths out all digressions of the mind. Though the narrator is, like the author, a writer and crossword setter, he takes a writer’s tool and divorces it from the act of connecting with the self or world. Instead, the physical act of writing becomes about avoiding spiritual searching, which has become too onerous—in an opening poem, before he begins his “graphological self-therapy” he writes “ It’s not worth searching, the more you look /  the more distant is seems, the better it hides.”

So the narrator delves into his penmanship not in hope of being a better writer, but to “make changes on a psychological level,” ones that he claims, in a burst of optimism, “will do wonders for my health and charachter, transforming a whole plethora of bad behaviors into good ones and catapulting me blissfully into a life of happiness, joy, money, and success with women and in other games of chance.” When his exercises pick up pace, though, the neat, ordered discipline of handwriting breaks down and sloppy print letters creep into that uniform line of script. This indication that thought has begun to flow freely is not positive—it runs contrary to the two-dimensional bliss he imagines neatness can herald. He takes frequent breaks to play around with his computer, which, even though the book was originally published in 1996, is a daunting tool, “very similar to the unconscious.” Nonetheless, he claims to prefer it to his own exhausted mind: “there’s nowhere left to go when it comes to investigating my unconscious; the computer also involves much less risk, or risk of a different kind.”

Link to the rest at Medium

By the penmanship standard, PG is a terrible person.

One of the great reliefs of finishing elementary school was the elimination of grades for penmanship. Then, in high school, he learned how to type and hasn’t looked back since.

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