If an AI creates a revolutionary piece of tech, is it really the creator? Or is the creator of the artificial intelligence behind that tech the true creator? It’s an ethical dilemma straight out of a Star Trek story. However, as our real-life AI gets more intelligent and creative, it’s a question we’re going to have to face.
In Australia, that question has already been asked. As expected, the proposition that an AI could be an inventor is causing heaps of legal discourse. Should artificial intelligence be treated as an inventor?
Australia rules on Artificial Intelligence creators
Reported by The Register, an Australian court official ruled on the case of AI inventors. The case, which was brought by Stephen Thaler, ruled in favour of artificial intelligence being recognised as inventors.
The current form of Australian patent law does not explicitly state that only humans can hold patents. As humans aren't the only things eligible to file a patent, an AI that is fully capable of filing a patent can be recognised as an inventor.
Australian Justice Beach explains: “In my view an artificial intelligence system can be an inventor for the purposes of the [patent] Act.”
They continued: “"First, an inventor is an agent noun; an agent can be a person or thing that invents. Second, so to hold reflects the reality in terms of many otherwise patentable inventions where it cannot sensibly be said that a human is the inventor. Third, nothing in the Act dictates the contrary conclusion."
AI Inventor: DABUS
Thaler approached the Australian court to permission to file a patent in the name of his AI DABUS. DABUS, an acronym for Device for the Autonomous Boot-strapping of Unified Sentience, has invented a food container and a light-emitting beacon.
Thaler was attempting to get an Australian patent in the name of the artificial intelligence but was denied. Justice Beach has since sent the patent applications back to the Commissioner of Patents to reconsider.
DABUS has already been recognised as an inventor in another country: South Africa. The AI successfully gained a patent for its food container design. However, other countries (such as the USA) have denied the AI patents.
Lawyers are unhappy
The ruling in favour of artificial intelligence has made some lawyers very unhappy. Mark Summerfield, an Australian IP lawyer, has spoken out against the claims that AI should be considered inventors. Essentially, Summerfield believes the ruling will result in a flood “junk patents” generated by machines.
On his blog, the lawyer said: “Just because patents are (or, at least, can be) good, it does not follow that more patents, generated in more ways, by more entities, must be better.”
"I do not consider the decision … to serve Australia’s interests," Summerfield added. "I think that it represents a form of judicial activism that results in the development of policy – in this case, the important matter of who, or what, can form the basis for the grant of a patent monopoly enforceable against the public at large – from the bench."