July 12, 2023

It is great to see license discussions sparked by recent developments in Open Source AI Ecosystem. The value in AI is not just in the Algorithms and the “Source” but also in a special kind of data – AI Weights (Neural Net Weights or NNWs) for which Open Source Licenses are not a particularly great fit.

Joseph Jack Heather Meeker has been championing discussion and Sid Sijbrandij has posted a very interesting article. This image in particular I think is the best illustration of the different “rights” the copyright holder (owner) may want to have (reserve) vs make available to the public and on what conditions.

AI Licensing Categories

What I’m particularly interested in this initiative is coming up with consistent terminology for code, data, weights, etc. It still uses the word “Open” which is at focus in Open Source or Open Data is misused and abused. We can see Elastic calling their ditching of Open Source License “Double Down on Open” or OpenAI seems to be more focused on restricting progress and protecting their truth than supporting permissionless innovation as “Open” in Open Source does. Though because “Open” is so established and well-known, replacing it is probably as hard as preventing its misuse and abuse. 

A lot of misuse and abuse I think comes from the fact that the Open Source community at large never liked having a central authority, and I think for a good reason and so “Open Source” can be used very liberally with the main risk being judgment of the court of public opinion. I would worry “Available” or “Ethical” could suffer the same fate.

Compare this to the USDA Organic label and Organic term where specific certification is required and you can’t just call something Organic because in your definition it means being made from Organic Chemistry compounds. 

Is there probably a need and an opportunity for “OSI Open Source”, “OSI Ethical Weights” and similar labels and certification processes?  

It does not have to be Open Source Initiative (OSI), though there is also the opportunity for other organizations to take a lead, might be Open Weights Foundation (OWF) Joseph Jacks is speaking of establishing can drive it?

OSI folks seem to also acknowledge the problem, with their focus naturally being Open Source – work has been started on creating Open Source AI Definition and they are actively encouraging the public to participate! 

Looking forward to seeing more progress in this exciting new effort!

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