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posted by martyb on Tuesday March 01 2022, @02:22AM   Printer-friendly
from the acquisition-for-30x-annual-recurring-revenue dept.

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has published five of the white papers it funded regarding questions about Microsoft Copilot. After Microsoft acquired GitHub, it set up a machine learning system to cull through its archive of software, called Copilot. The approach chosen and even the basic activity raises many questions starting with those of licensing.

Microsoft GitHub's announcement of an AI-driven Service as a Software Substitute (SaaSS) program called Copilot -- which uses machine learning to autocomplete code for developers as they write software -- immediately raised serious questions for the free software movement and our ability to safeguard user and developer freedom. We felt these questions needed to be addressed, as a variety of serious implications were foreseen for the free software community and developers who use GitHub. These inquiries -- and others possibly yet to be discovered -- needed to be reviewed in depth.

In our call for papers, we set forth several areas of interest. Most of these areas centered around copyright law, questions of ownership for AI-generated code, and legal impacts for GitHub authors who use a GNU or other copyleft license(s) for their works. We are pleased to announce the community-provided research into these areas, and much more.

First, we want to thank everyone who participated by sending in their papers. We received a healthy response of twenty-two papers from members of the community. The papers weighed-in on the multiple areas of interest we had indicated in our announcement. Using an anonymous review process, we concluded there were five papers that would be best suited to inform the community and foster critical conversations to help guide our actions in the search for solutions.

These five submissions are not ranked, and we decided it best to just let the papers speak for themselves. The papers contain opinions with which the Free Software Foundation (FSF) may or may not agree, and any views expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent the FSF. They were selected because we thought they advanced discussion of important questions, and did so clearly. To that end, the FSF is not providing any summaries of the papers or elaborating on our developing positions until we can learn further, through the community, how best to view the situation.

The FSF has also arranged upcoming discussions regarding these white papers. Microsoft bought GitHub in 2018 for $7.5 billion in stock, which if it had been real money instead it would have been 30 times the annual recurring revenue brought in by GitHub.

(2021) GitHub's Automatic Coding Tool Rests on Untested Legal Ground
(2020) GitHub Revamps Copyright Takedown Policy After Restoring YouTube-dl
(2018) Microsoft Agrees to Acquire GitHub... for $7.5 Billion [Updated]
(2014) Atom, GitHub's Editor Now Open Source

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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday March 01 2022, @10:45AM (3 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday March 01 2022, @10:45AM (#1225814)

    Isn't this just the scientific method, in a nutshell?

    Whether you say "harvested for proven concepts by AI" or "standing on the shoulders of giants" the outcome is the same.

    Progress leads to better tools, better tools lead to more progress. Did people feel the same way when scribes started doing the work of bards more effectively?

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  • (Score: 3, Disagree) by Mojibake Tengu on Tuesday March 01 2022, @01:41PM (2 children)

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Tuesday March 01 2022, @01:41PM (#1225832) Journal

    But this situation is different to all previous epochs. Now it is the first time in known history when the technology transcends human mental abilities.

    Not just some trivial science and progress, impact of synthetic thinking on governance methods and religion is unpredictable at this moment.
    A complete crush of current social model is imminent.

    Rust programming language offends both my Intelligence and my Spirit.
    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by JoeMerchant on Tuesday March 01 2022, @05:46PM

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Tuesday March 01 2022, @05:46PM (#1225904)

      I would say that a complete crush of the current social model was imminent upon the introduction of fire, farming, pottery, metalworking, written language, ocean/upwind sailing, gunpowder, external then internal combustion engines, the telegraph, wireless communication, heavier than air flight, electric power, refrigeration, interstate class highway systems, "the bomb", artificial satellites, computers and databases, the internet, smartphones, etc.

      Every one of those turned existing society on its head, transforming long standing social models or obliterating them entirely across much of the human world. Most people of the day didn't fully comprehend the new technology when it rolled out, nor it's true implications for the near and distant future.

      What is called AI today is just existing algorithms becoming a little surprisingly capable of making distinctions in large datasets when scaled up to large numbers of "trained coefficients.". It's not magic, just math.

      🌻🌻 []
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2022, @07:42PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 01 2022, @07:42PM (#1225938)

      Now it is the first time in known history when the technology transcends human mental abilities.

      The technology transcended them when a trader made the first abacus, and when a scribe recorded the first story. Nothing new.
      The problem is, now it is the technology of lying that finally transcended human abilities to challenge it. :(
      The broadcast bullshit, then the astroturf bullshit, then the targeted bullshit, then the echo chambers of bullshit. Our brains' antiquated firmware has proven itself critically vulnerable to visual footage ("seeing is believing", for nothing on Earth could produce illusions before the cinema), and is now exploited left and right, by "the left" and "the right" and everyone else and their pets (literally, cue cat videos). And the global madness inevitably came. :(

      As to so-called "AI", wake me up when the thing becomes able to understand what it does; if a nuke does not put me to eternal sleep before that, which now feels far more probable than a glorified pattern recognizer magically achieving sentience.
      "GitHub Copilot tries to understand your intent and to generate the best code it can, but the code it suggests may not always work, or even make sense." []