The Ethics Behind the Disruptive Technology in AI NFTs
The Dibbs Team
Feb 17, 2023
5 min read

The Ethics Behind the Disruptive Technology in AI NFTs

How the future of AI may depend on the blockchain and NFTs

A robotic hand points upward toward connected points of light.

The rapid growth of artificial intelligence (AI)  and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has led to both research and market conditions that may seem totally unfamiliar. But at least in terms of ethics in AI NFTs, these kinds of issues aren’t so new.

It may be hard to imagine now, with the internet on your phone, your watch, and even your refrigerator, but there was a time when the internet itself seemed like a passing fad. Over 20 years ago, when “the world wide web” was young, investors rushed to internet startups, and the valuations of internet-related companies ballooned in size. It was often referred to as the “Wild West,” in part because it had a similar lack of governance to that point in American history. When the rules have yet to be written and there’s money to be made, people will do just about anything.

The “Dot Com Bubble,” as it would soon be called, quickly burst, leaving many companies (and their investors) devastated. Valuations of internet companies shrank back down to realistic sizes, the market corrected, and many assumed the “fad” of the internet was over. But we know now it wasn’t.

Today, AIs are the new “Wild West.” There is seemingly a new AI model or product introduced every day, creating art, writing words, and even making NFTs. And just like those dot com days, the rules have yet to be written, and there’s money to be made. As more AIs are created, they raise compelling issues about their creation and usage. What are the ethical challenges of AIs? And how can NFTs help make them more ethical? Let’s examine the issues. 

What Are AI NFTs?

AI NFTs are non-fungible tokens that represent ownership of an AI. You can own some or all of almost any kind of AI, and one of the most common examples is a virtual artist AI. You can input a prompt, and the AI will create art in a specific style or utilize specific elements that you dictate. The resulting art can then be tokenized and traded, just like the program that created it.

AI NFTs should not be confused, however, with AI-generated NFTs. An AI NFT would grant you ownership of the virtual artist that creates NFTs. The NFTs created by that artist would then be called AI-generated NFTs. One is the artist, the other is the art.

Whether you already know the intricacies of AI models and different blockchain protocols or are just now beginning to tease apart what this new union of machine learning and Web3 may hold for your brand, you likely already have more asset tokenization possibilities than you know.

What Are the Ethical Challenges of AI?

AIs are being used for more than just creating art. They’re in business, healthcare, and even the criminal justice system. While the capacity for sifting through massive amounts of data makes AI well-suited for performing a variety of tasks that would be challenging for humans, the degree to which we now depend on AI is opening the door to great ethical challenges.

The “artificial” in AI means it’s made by humans  — and humans are flawed. AI can analyze mountains of data and “learn” how to perform tasks or simulate tasks performed by humans. This makes it incredibly powerful and adaptable, but the ethics of an AI depend greatly on the ethics of the data it is fed.

Consider an AI that creates written content, like ChatGPT or Google’s Bard. These AIs are created by humans and taught by humans. Like us, they learn how to create content by consuming content that has already been created. If the material they are learning from contains biases, like racism or anti-Semitism, these AIs will — albeit unintentionally — replicate those biases in the content they create.

The issue of ownership is another area where AIs are creating an ethical challenge. AIs such as Dall-E and Starry create art on demand without the apparent aid of a human artist. This may seem like magic, but the reality is more complicated. These AIs (and others) create new works by analyzing the work of millions of artists who have shared their creations online, lifting and remixing pieces of those works to create new compositions, often times against their consent and without compensation.

Ethically, ownership of the art created by these AIs is a grey area. If the artwork created by an AI is sold, who would legally own the rights to that revenue? The AI cannot be assigned legal ownership because it is not a person. This makes the process of creating and marketing AI-generated art legally complicated. Luckily, NFTs have a clear answer.

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How Ethical Are AI NFTs?

The challenge of the ownership of AI-generated art and NFTs can be solved by NFTs themselves. Ownership of the rights to an NFT or other AI-generated artwork can be assigned to multiple owners via NFT. The owners of the tokens then become the legal owners of both the AI and the art it creates, sidestepping the issue of assigning ownership to an AI.

Similar ethical challenges can be solved by NFTs in the world of trading. Some of the best-known NFTs have revolutionized the world of collecting by relying on decentralized trading and blockchain technology to ensure ownership is properly accounted for.

NFT-backed ownership of AI can have a similar effect, introducing transparency and accountability into the ownership — and, therefore, the management — of AI. The twin issues of bias and attribution can be solved through the use of NFTs, as greater transparency and accountability will lead to more hands on the wheel and, just as important, proper compensation through built-in methods such as smart contracts.

Similar to the collectible trading space, if AIs are centralized into one or two companies, transparency and accountability will suffer. But as more and more owners take part in managing AIs, there will be greater transparency and positive strides toward ethics in AI NFTs.

How Will Regulation, Decentralization, and Blockchain Impact Ethics in AI NFTs?

As we move from the “Wild West” period of AI, we will begin to see more regulation and decentralization. Just as with the Dot Com boom, regulation will be the key to reining in some of the hazards of AIs. Regulation will also help address the legal issues surrounding AI, such as attribution of sources and compensation for creators from whose works AIs are borrowing. The aforementioned smart contracts already represent one promising avenue toward self-regulation, an essential toward stability for many young industries.

AI represents the future. Not just the future of creating art and words, but the future of work and ownership of that work as well. Brands that can see this future — and take advantage of it — will be the ones leading the charge into the next age of creation. Book a demo with Dibbs today to find out how our tokenization services can keep your brand ahead of the curve.

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