Updated: August 24, 2021 8:07:38 am
If you prick them, they do not bleed; if you tickle them, they do not laugh and for now, they do not revenge. But Artificial Intelligence, in more and more jurisdictions, can now invent, create — and file patents. DABUS, a “creativity” machine, has been recognised as an inventor for a type of food container that improves grip and heat transfer. It might be easy to dismiss this development as another way for corporations to protect profits or fear it as yet another step towards the AI apocalypse. But the problem — and the subsequent need for patent protection — is not merely one of technology.
Ryan Abbott, a law professor at the University of Surrey, has been campaigning for the better part of a decade to grant AIs near-person status in international patent law. While the EU and US patent laws still do not allow AI to be regarded as an owner, there is increasing pressure on these countries to do so. And there is some merit to the argument that Abbott and his colleagues are making.
AI can perform calculations, analyse data and even generate novel ideas and systems at a far faster pace, and in greater volume, than human minds. In practice, this could mean, for example, that the vaccine for the next pandemic is discovered by a thinking machine. For the West, particularly the US, development and deployment of AI is something that will have to be undertaken on a much larger scale to compete with China both strategically and economically. However, without adequate patent law, where and how AIs are deployed by corporations and individuals could be limited. That’s really the rub of it: While the inventor may be artificial, the owner is still human — often greedily so. The law is yet to catch up, in most places, with the reality of how much thinking and innovating machines now undertake. And without legal clarity on IP and patents, there will always be someone who gets an undue advantage.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 24, 2021 under the title ‘Machine Law’.
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