“Open” “AI” isn’t

Not “open,” nor “artificial,” and certainly not “intelligent.”

Cory Doctorow


Tux the Penguin, posed on a Matrix credit-sequence ‘code waterfall.’ His eyes have been replaced with the menacing red eyes of HAL 9000 from Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey.’ Image: Cryteria (modified) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HAL9000.svg CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

Tomorrow (19 Aug), I’m appearing at the San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books. I’m on a 2:30PM panel called “Return From Retirement,” followed by a signing:


The crybabies who freak out about The Communist Manifesto appearing on university curriculum clearly never read it — chapter one is basically a long hymn to capitalism’s flexibility and inventiveness, its ability to change form and adapt itself to everything the world throws at it and come out on top:


Today, leftists signal this protean capacity of capital with the -washing suffix: greenwashing, genderwashing, queerwashing, wokewashing — all the ways capital cloaks itself in liberatory, progressive values, while still serving as a force for extraction, exploitation, and political corruption.

A smart capitalist is someone who, sensing the outrage at a world run by 150 old white guys in boardrooms, proposes replacing half of them with women, queers, and people of color. This is a superficial maneuver, sure, but it’s an incredibly effective one.

In “Open (For Business): Big Tech, Concentrated Power, and the Political Economy of Open AI,” a new working paper, Meredith Whittaker, David Gray Widder and Sarah B Myers document a new kind of -washing: openwashing:


Openwashing is the trick that large “AI” companies use to evade regulation and neutralizing critics, by casting themselves as forces of ethical capitalism, committed to the virtue of openness. No one should be surprised to learn that the products of the “open” wing of an industry whose products are neither “artificial,” nor “intelligent,” are also not “open.” Every word AI huxters say is a lie; including “and,” and “the.”

So what work does the “open” in “open AI” do? “Open” here is supposed to invoke the “open” in “open source,” a movement that emphasizes a software development methodology that promotes code transparency, reusability and extensibility, which are…