Month: April 2018

USPTO Suggests That AI Algorithms Are Patentable, Leading To A Whole Host Of IP And Ethics Questions

The world is slowly but surely marching towards newer and better forms of artificial intelligence, with some of the world’s most prominent technology companies and governments heavily investing in it. While limited or specialist AI is the current focus of many of these companies, building what is essentially single-trick intelligent systems to address limited problems and tasks, the real prize at the end of this rainbow is an artificial general intelligence. When an AGI could be achieved is still squarely up in the air, but many believe this to be a question of when, not if, such an intelligence is created. Surrounding that are questions of ethics that largely center on whether an AGI would be truly sentient and conscious, and what that would imply about our obligations to such a mechanical being.

Strangely, patent law is being forcibly injected into this ethical equation, as the USPTO has come out in favor of the algorithms governing AI and AGI being patentable.

Andrei Iancu, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), says that the courts have strayed on the issue of patent eligibility, including signaling he thought algorithms using artificial intelligence were patentable as a general proposition.

That came in a USPTO oversight hearing Wednesday (April 18) before a generally supportive Senate Judiciary Committee panel.

Both Iancu and the legislators were in agreement that more clarity was needed in the area of computer-related patents, and that PTO needed to provide more precedential opinions when issuing patents so it was not trying to reinvent the wheel each time and to better guide courts.

On some level, even without considering the kind of AI and AGI once thought the stuff of science fiction, the general question of patenting algorithms is absurd. Algorithms, after all, are essentially a manipulated form of math, far different from true technological expression or physical invention. They are a way to make equations for various functions, including, potentially, equations that would both govern AI and allow AI to learn and evolve in a way not so governed. However ingenious they might be, they are most certainly no more invention than would be the process human cells use to pass along DNA yet discovered by human beings. It’s far more discovery than invention, if it’s invention at all. Man is now trying to organize mathematics in such a way so as to create intelligence, but it is not inventing that math.

Yet both the USPTO and some in government seem to discard this question for arguments based on mere economic practicality.

Sen. Kamala Harris drilled down on those Supreme Court patent eligibility decisions — Aliceand Mayo, among them — in which the court suggested algorithms used in artificial intelligence (AI) might be patentable. She suggested that such a finding would provide incentive for inventors to pursue the kind of AI applications being used in important medical research.

Iancu said that generally speaking, algorithms were human made and the result of human ingenuity rather than the mathematical representations of the discoveries of laws of nature — E=MC2 for example — which were not patentable. Algorithms are not set from time immemorial or “absolutes,” he said. “They depend on human choices, which he said differs from E=MC2 or the Pythagorean theorem, or from a “pattern” being discovered in nature.

Again, this seems to be a misunderstanding of what an algorithm is. The organization and ordering of a series of math equations is not human invention. It is most certainly human ingenuity, but so was the understanding of the Bernouli Principle, which didn’t likewise result in a patent on the math that makes airplanes fly. Allowing companies and researchers to lock up the mathematical concepts for artificial intelligence, whatever the expected incentivizing benefits, is pretty clearly beyond the original purpose and scope of patent law.

But let’s say the USPTO and other governments ignore that argument. Keep in mind that algorithms that govern the behavior of AI are mirrors of the intelligent processes occurring in human brains. They are that which will make up the “I” for an AI, essentially making it what it is. Once we reach the level of AGI, its reasonable to consider those algorithms to be the equivalent of the brain function and, by some arguments, consciousness of a mechanical or digital being. Were the USPTO to have its way, that consciousness would be patentable. For those that believe we might one day be the creators of some form of digital life or consciousness, that entire concept is absurd, or at least terribly unethical.

Such cavalier conversations about patenting the math behind potentially true AGI probably require far more thought than asserting they are generally patentable.

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Posted by amiller in Blog
A #SmallThanks makes a big difference this National Small Business Week

A #SmallThanks makes a big difference this National Small Business Week

Love a local spot? Make it known this National Small Business Week—post a review or photo to their Google listing, or thank them on social media with the hashtag #SmallThanks. A small shout-out can mean a lot for a local business.  

One of my latest favorites is ABLE, a hip boutique in Nashville, TN that sells bags, shoes and jewelry handcrafted by women who have often overcome extraordinary circumstances to become entrepreneurs. I just gave ABLE a Small Thanks review on their Google listing for all they do (and for the cute earrings I just bought from them!).

During National Small Business Week, YouTube creators across the country are also sharing the places they love—from skate shops to bookmobiles and everything in between.

#SmallThanks for National Small Business Week

If you own a small business, check out the #SmallThanks Hub for free, customized marketing materials to turn your reviews into ready-to-use social posts, stickers, posters, and more. Reviews from your fans are like “digital thank you notes” and are one of the first things people notice about your business online, so start sharing your customers’ love with #SmallThanks today.


Examples of marketing materials on the #SmallThanks Hub 

For more tips on how to connect with local customers online, tune into our National Small Business Week livestream workshop from 9:00-10:00 a.m. PT on Wednesday, May 2. Register or find a partner-hosted workshop near you at You can also find additional resources in our Grow with Google hub.

Happy National Small Business Week! Don’t forget to show your favorite local spot some love this week with a #SmallThanks—a small way to give them a big thank you.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, Grow with Google, Small Business

Congress And The CASE Of The Proposed Bill That Helps Copyright Trolls

One of the recurrent themes on Techdirt is that law itself should not become a tool for unlawful abuse. No matter how well-intentioned, if a law provides bad actors with the ability and opportunity to easily chill others’ speech or otherwise lawful activity, then it is not a good law.

The CASE Act is an example of a bad law. On the surface it may seem like a good one: one of the reasons people are able to abuse the legal system to shut down those they want to silence is because getting sucked into a lawsuit, even one you might win, can be so ruinously expensive. The CASE Act is intended to provide a more economical way to resolve certain types of copyright infringement disputes, particularly those involving lower monetary value.

But one of the reasons litigation is expensive is because there are number of checks built into it to make sure that before anyone can be forced to pay damages, or be stopped from saying or doing what they were saying or doing, that the party making this demand is actually entitled to. A big problem with the CASE Act is that in exchange for the cost-savings it may offer, it gives up many of those critical checks.

In recognition of the harm removal of these checks would invite, EFF has authored a letter to the House Judiciary Committee raising the alarm on how the CASE Act would only aggravate, rather than remediate, the significant troll problem.

Per the letter, federal courts have been increasingly “reining in [trolling behavior] by demanding specific and reliable evidence of infringement—more than boilerplate allegations—before issuing subpoenas for the identity of an alleged infringer. Some federal courts have also undertaken reviews of copyright troll plaintiffs’ communications with their targets with an eye to preventing coercion and intimidation. These reforms have reduced the financial incentive for the abusive business model of copyright trolling.”

But under the CASE Act, these provisions would not apply. Instead

[L]egally unsophisticated defendants—the kind most often targeted by copyright trolls—are likely to find themselves bound by the judgments of a non-judicial body in faraway Washington, D.C., with few if any avenues for appeal. The statutory damages of up to $30,000 proposed in the CASE Act, while less than the $150,000 maximum in federal court, are still a daunting amount for many people in the U.S., more than high enough to coerce Internet users into paying settlements of $2,000–$8,000. Under the Act, a plaintiff engaged in copyright trolling would not need to show any evidence of actual harm in order to recover statutory damages. And unlike in the federal courts, statutory damages could be awarded under the CASE Act even for copyrights that are not registered with the Copyright Office before the alleged infringement began. This means that copyright trolls will be able to threaten home Internet users with life-altering damages—and profit from those threats—based on works with no commercial or artistic value.

And that’s not all:

Another troubling provision of the CASE Act would permit the Copyright Office to dispense with even the minimal procedural protections established in the bill for claims of $5,000 or less. These “smaller claims”—which are still at or above the largest allowed in small claims court in 21 states—could be decided by a single “Claims Officer” in a summary procedure on the slimmest of evidence, yet still produce judgments enforceable in federal court with no meaningful right of appeal.


[T] he federal courts are extremely cautious when granting default judgments, and regularly set them aside to avoid injustice to unsophisticated defendants. Nothing in the CASE Act requires the Copyright Office to show the same concern for the rights of defendants. At minimum, a requirement that small claims procedures cannot commence unless defendants affirmatively opt in to those procedures would give the Copyright Office an incentive to ensure that defendants’ procedural and substantive rights are upheld. A truly fair process will be attractive to both copyright holders and those accused of infringement.

The CASE Act appears to reflect an idealized view that the only people who sue other people for copyright infringement are those who have valid claims. But that is not the world we live in. Trolls abound, parasites eager to use the threat of litigation as a club to extract money from innocent victims. And the CASE Act, if passed, would give them a bigger weapon.

It also gives would-be censors additional tools to chill their critics through the use of a new subpoena power administered through the Copyright Office, without sufficient due process built into the system to ensure that these subpoenas are not being used as a means of unjustly stripping speakers of their right to anonymous speech.

The CASE Act also gives the Copyright Office the authority to issue subpoenas for information about Internet subscribers. The safeguards for Internet users’ privacy established in the federal courts will not apply. In fact, the bill doesn’t even require that a copyright holder state a plausible claim of copyright infringement before requesting a subpoena—a basic requirement in federal court.

EFF was joined on this letter by many other lawyers (including me) and experts who have worked to defend innocent people from unjust threats of litigation, in the hope that it can help pressure Congress not to give the green light to more of it.

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Posted by amiller in Blog

WhatsApp Founder Plans To Leave After Broad Clashes With Parent Facebook

The billionaire chief executive of WhatsApp, Jan Koum, is planning to leave the company after clashing with its parent, Facebook, over the popular messaging service’s strategy and Facebook’s attempts to use its personal data and weaken its encryption, according to people familiar with internal discussions.

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Posted by amiller in Blog
AI Researchers Revolt Against a New Paywalled Nature Journal

AI Researchers Revolt Against a New Paywalled Nature Journal

More than 2,000 researchers, including several employees of Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Netflix and other companies, have signed an open letter to revolt against Nature Machine Intelligence, a proposed new paywalled (closed-access) journal from Nature Publishing Group. The researchers said they won’t “submit to, review, or edit” anything for the new publication. Nature Publishing Group has responded to the protest saying it is “providing a service — for those who are interested — by connecting different fields, providing an outlet for interdisciplinary work and guiding a rigorous review process.” The open letter, posted on Oregon State University’s site, adds: We see no role for closed access or author-fee publication in the future of machine learning research and believe the adoption of this new journal as an outlet of record for the machine learning community would be a retrograde step. In contrast, we would welcome new zero-cost open access journals and conferences in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Posted by amiller in AI, Blog
Comcast Won't Give New Speed Boost To Internet Users Who Don't Buy TV Service

Comcast Won't Give New Speed Boost To Internet Users Who Don't Buy TV Service

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Last week, Comcast announced speed increases for customers in Houston and the Oregon/SW Washington areas. The announcement headlines were “Comcast increases Internet speeds for some video customers.” Customers with 60Mbps Internet download speeds are being upped to 150Mbps; 150Mbps subscribers are going to 250Mbps; and 250Mbps subscribers are getting a raise to 400Mbps or 1Gbps. Comcast says speed increases will kick in automatically without raising the customers’ monthly bills — but only if they subscribe to certain bundles that include both Internet and TV service. “Cord cutters are not invited to the [speed increase] party,” the Houston Chronicle wrote. “Only those who bundle Internet with cable television and other services… will see their speeds go up at no extra charge.” Presumably, Internet-only customers can get the new speeds by paying more or by bundling their Internet subscriptions with video.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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Posted by amiller in Blog, TV