“I flew to San Francisco this fall to meet the man behind the first wave of class action lawsuits against generative AI companies on behalf of artists, writers, and programmers. Matthew Butterick is one of the leaders of this “human resistance,” and an important figure to know. (It’s completely unclear whether he’ll win his cases, of course!)” - Kate Knibbs
The generative AI boom is in full swing now. Some people are thrilled. Others, not so much.
At WIRED, I’ve been covering the resistance to artificial intelligence in the arts. A growing community of writers, programmers, artists, musicians, lawyers, researchers, policymakers, and regular concerned citizens is coalescing to look at this moment critically, to ask tough questions, and to advocate for guardrails to make sure that technological progress doesn’t destroy creative industries. Is scraping the web for training data ethical? Who gets to decide whether AI art is any good? How should copyright law apply to AI-generated work?
This collection gathers some of these stories, and I hope it will help you better understand what’s at stake in this moment, and why people feel so compelled to fight for a different future than the one envisioned by Big Tech.
Image Credit: SENRYU / Getty Images
KK: “Last spring, Madeleine Ashby wrote this terrific explainer for WIRED about how a Supreme Court case about Andy Warhol’s art—one which has nothing to do on the surface with artificial intelligence—might be crucial to future fights over AI and ownership.”
KK: “My colleague Will Knight has been covering AI for years, and this story from 2022 is one of the best early reports on the brewing backlash.”
KK: “I started reporting this story after I saw writers I admire complaining about a startup I’d never heard of stealing their work on social media. I ended up spending over a week interviewing people, including the owner of the controversial startup, and realizing that this was a minor conflict with major implications. It was the first time I really understood the battle lines being drawn.”
KK: “This fantastic scoop by The Atlantic’s Alex Reisner revealed the contents of one of the most popular datasets used to train large language models, known as Books3. Tons of incredibly popular writers, like Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, are in the collection.”
KK: “ I dug into the creation of Books3, and the fight to stop AI companies from using its pilfered dataset. It was wild to see how far apart some of my sources were on the ethics of web scraping. Books3 creator Shawn Presser, who I interviewed at length, really believes he’s doing a service to the scientific community. His critics think he’s helping to kill writing as we know it.”
Katie Knibbs: “Alex Reisner again. The Atlantic’s coverage of Books3 has been so incredible. Big props to Damon Beres, who edits these stories. This is a searchable database of Books3, so you can see exactly which books are in it.”
KK: “The fantastic new worker-owned tech outlet 404 Media broke the story of an especially alarming trend in AI-generated publishing. This story really drives home how much AI slime clogging up the internet might actually make our lives worse. (Or, if we’re unwise enough to take foraging advice from a robot, straight-up kill us.)”
KK: “When I pitched this story, I just wanted to know why AI art looked so corny. I ended up having an extremely illuminating conversation with artist Amelia Winger-Bearskin, who I quote in this story, about how AI art’s greatest aesthetic contribution might be in the ways it pushes humans to rebel against it, in the way that the rise of photography inspired abstract expressionism. We’ll see!”
KK: “I started reporting this story after several artists reached out and told me that their attempts to opt out of Meta’s AI training had failed. Meta’s response surprised me—the company says it doesn’t have an opt-out program. So why did artists think it did? The miscommunications here are telling.”
Get to know what’s behind the latest WIRED stories — straight from the reporters.
Kate Knibbs is a senior writer at WIRED, covering culture. She was previously a writer at The Ringer and Gizmodo.