"There is a new species here on Earth, and it's called DABUS."

DABUS Ex Machina

AI researcher Stephen Thaler is adamant that his AI, which he calls the Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience (DABUS), is indeed sentient. And because of that, he argues that the art DABUS creates — or anything else — should be copyrightable.

But to Thaler, the battle transcends mere human courts.

"DABUS and all of this intellectual property is not about setting precedents with the law," he told Wired in a recent interview. "It's about setting precedents in terms of human acceptance,"

"There is a new species here on Earth," he added, "and it's called DABUS."

So far, the copyright fight has been a losing one for Thaler.

Last week, a US federal court struck down Thaler's attempt to copyright an image DABUS produced, reaffirming the Copyright's Office decision in March and the year before.

Those decisions upheld the doctrine that copyright requires human authorship, which disbars DABUS — or any "new species" — as much as it does as animals.

And besides, for obvious reasons, experts aren't convinced by Thaler's claims of the AI's consciousness.

"I don't even really know where to begin, other than to say, if there is a sentient AI on the planet currently, it's definitely not this," Matthew Sag, a professor of law and artificial intelligence at Emory University, told Wired.

Inventing Inventors

Not that that kind of talk has ever deterred Thaler. He has a powerful legal alley: Ryan Abbott, a law professor at the University of Surrey who heads an effort of IP lawyers called the Artificial Inventor Project, founded in 2018. Its goal, as the name suggests, is to allow IP protections for works created by or using an AI.

Abbott's core belief is that, in order to incentivize people to use AI to benefit humanity, its creations, like a disease-staving vaccine, should still be patentable. Under current patent laws, that's not possible, he argues. (Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine, would have something to say to that. When asked on a live broadcast why he didn't patent the polio vaccine, Salk famously rejoined: "Could you patent the Sun?")

"In the US, inventors are defined as individuals, and we argued there was no reason that was restricted to a natural person," Abbott told Wired.

But Abbott is less concerned about an AI's autonomy and more worried about how the use of a generative AI affects authorship — or rather, that it shouldn't.

For his part, Sag called this reasoning a "total nonstarter," saying the "bottom line is that we don’t need AI inventors to patent the outcomes of emergent processes."

With their efforts falling flat in the US, Thaler and Abbott await the UK Supreme Court's ruling, set to release in September, on whether a pair of patents attributed to DABUS are valid.

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