Illustrating generative AI
Image by Gerd Altmann on Pixabay.

What is generative AI?

“AI,” of course, stands for artificial intelligence. Generative AI is a variety of it that can produce content such as text and images, seemingly of its own creation. I say “seemingly” because in reality these kinds of AI tools are not really independently creating these images and lines of text. Rather, they are “trained” to emulate existing works created by humans. Essentially, they are derivative work generation machines that enable the creation of derivative works based on potentially millions of human-created works.

AI has been around for decades. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that the technology began to be refined to the point that it could generate text, images, video and audio so similar to real people and their creations that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to tell the difference.

Rapid advances in the technology in the past few years have yielded generative-AI tools that can write entire stories and articles, seemingly paint artistic images, and even generate what appear to be photographic images of people.

AI “hallucinations” (aka lies)

In the AI field, a “hallucination” occurs when an AI tool (such as ChatGPT) generates a confident response that is not justified by the data on which it has been trained.

For example, I queried ChatGPT about whether a company owned equally by a husband and wife could qualify for the preferences the federal government sets aside for women-owned businesses. The chatbot responded with something along the lines of “Certainly” or “Absolutely,” explaining that the U.S. government is required to provide equal opportunities to all people without discriminating on the basis of sex, or something along those lines. When I cited the provision of federal law that contradicts what the chatbot had just asserted, it replied with an apology and something to the effect of “My bad.”

I also asked ChatGPT if any U.S. law imposes unequal obligations on male citizens. The chatbot cheerily reported back to me that no, no such laws exist. I then cited the provision of the United States Code that imposes an obligation to register for Selective Service only upon male citizens. The bot responded that while that is true, it is unimportant and irrelevant because there has not been a draft in a long time and there is not likely to be one anytime soon. I explained to the bot that this response was irrelevant. Young men can be, and are, denied the right to government employment and other civic rights and benefits if they fail to register, regardless of whether a draft is in place or not, and regardless of whether they are prosecuted criminally or not. At this point, ChatGPT announced that it would not be able to continue this conversation with me. In addition, it made up some excuse. I don’t remember what it was, but it was something like too many users were currently logged on.

These are all examples of AI hallucinations. If a human being were to say them, we would call them “lies.”

Generating lie after lie

AI tools regularly concoct lies. For example, when asked to generate a financial statement for a company, a popular AI tool falsely stated that the company’s revenue was some number it apparently had simply made up. According to Slate, in their article, “The Alarming Deceptions at the Heart of an Astounding New Chatbot,” users of large language models like ChatGPT have been complaining that these tools randomly insert falsehoods into the text they generate. Experts now consider frequent “hallucination” (aka lying) to be a major problem in chatbots.

ChatGPT has also generated fake case precedents, replete with plausible-sounding citations. This phenomenon made the news when Stephen Schwartz submitted six fake ChatGPT-generated case precedents in his brief to the federal district court for the Southern District of New York in Mata v. Avianca. Schwartz reported that ChatGPT continued to insist the fake cases were authentic even after their nonexistence was discovered. The judge proceeded to ban the submission of AI-generated filings that have not been reviewed by a human, saying that generative-AI tools

are prone to hallucinations and bias…. [T]hey make stuff up – even quotes and citations. Another issue is reliability or bias. While attorneys swear an oath to set aside their personal prejudices,… generative artificial intelligence is the product of programming devised by humans who did not have to swear such an oath. As such, these systems hold no allegiance to…the truth.

Judge Brantley Starr, Mandatory Certification Regarding Generative Artificial Intelligence.

Facilitating defamation

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act generally shields Facebook, Google and other online services from liability for providing a platform for users to publish false and defamatory information about other people. That has been a real boon for people who like to destroy other people’s reputations by means of spreading lies and misinformation about them online. It can be difficult and expensive to sue an individual for defamation, particularly when the individual has taken steps to conceal and/or lie about his or her identity. Generative AI tools make the job of defaming people even simpler and easier.

More concerning than the malicious defamatory liars, however, are the many people who earnestly rely on AI as a research tool. In July, 2023, Mark Walters filed a lawsuit against OpenAI, claiming its ChatGPT tool provided false and defamatory misinformation about him to journalist Fred Riehl. I wrote about this lawsuit in a previous blog post. Shortly after this lawsuit was filed, a defamation lawsuit was filed against Microsoft, alleging that its AI tool, too, had generated defamatory lies about an individual. Generative-AI tools can generate false and defamation statements about individuals even if no one has any intention of defaming anyone or ruining another person’s reputation.

Facilitating false light invasion of privacy

Generative AI is also highly effective in portraying people in a false light. In one recently filed lawsuit, Jack Flora and others allege, among other things, that Prisma Labs’ Lensa app generates sexualized images from images of fully-clothed people, and that the company failed to notify users about the biometric data it collects and how it will be stored and/or destroyed. Flora et al. v. Prisma Labs, Inc., No. 23-cv-00680 (N.D. Calif. February 15, 2023).

Pot, meet kettle; kettle, pot

“False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. . . . At Meta, we’re working to fight the spread of false news.” Meta (nee Facebook) published that statement back in 2017.  Since then, it has engaged in what is arguably the most ambitious campaign in history to monitor and regulate the content of conversations among humans. Yet, it has also joined other mega-organizations Google and Microsoft in investing multiple billions of dollars in what is the greatest boon to fake news in recorded history: generative-AI.

Toward a braver new world

It would be difficult to imagine a more efficient method of facilitating widespread lying and deception (not to mention false and hateful rhetoric) – and therefore propaganda – than generative-AI. Yet, these mega-organizations continue to sink more and more money into further development and deployment of these lie-generators.

I dread what the future holds in store for our children and theirs.

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