Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Some Reasons to be Skeptical of AI Authorship, Part 1: What is an (AI) Author?
By Gordon Hull, New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science, 06 February 2023

Large Language Models (LLMs) like Chat-GPT burst into public consciousness sometime in the second half of last year, and Chat-GPT’s impressive results have led to a wave of concern about the future viability of any profession that depends on writing, or on teaching writing in education. A lot of this is hype, but one issue that is emerging is the role of AI authorship in academic and other publications; there’s already a handful of submissions that list AI co-authors. An editorial in Nature published on Feb. 3 outlines the scope of the issues at hand:

“This technology has far-reaching consequences for science and society. Researchers and others have already used ChatGPT and other large language models to write essays and talks, summarize literature, draft and improve papers, as well as identify research gaps and write computer code, including statistical analyses. Soon this technology will evolve to the point that it can design experiments, write and complete manuscripts, conduct peer review and support editorial decisions to accept or reject manuscripts”

In Foucauldian terms, “author” is a political category, and we have historically used it precisely to negotiate accountability for creation. As Foucault writes in his “What is an Author” essay, authorship is a historically specific function, and “texts, books, and discourses really begin to have authors … to the extent that authors became subject to punishment, that is, to the extent that discourse could be transgressive” (Reader, 108). In other words, it’s about accountability and individuation: “The coming into being of the notion of ‘author’ constitutes the privileged moment of individualization in the history of ideas, knowledge, literature, philosophy, and the sciences” (101). We see this part of the author function at work in intellectual property, where the “author” is also the person who can get paid for the work (there’s litigation brewing in the IP-world about AI authorship and invention). As works-for-hire doctrine indicates, the person who actually produces the work may not ever be the author: if I write code for Microsoft for a living, I am probably not the author of the code I write. Microsoft is.

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