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How AI Can Alter Skill Contests

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.”

AI could very well be today’s “Modern Prometheus” in the world of skill contests. Earlier this year, the AI-generated photograph “The Electrician” was a finalist in the World Photograph Organization’s Sony World Photograph Awards. Last year, another AI-generated art piece won the Colorado State Fair Fine Arts competition.

Contestants may feel it pathetic or even contemptible if an AI-generated piece beat out their garrulous (yet, truly-original) 250-word response to “What I did on my summer vacation.” The legitimacy of judging the truly “best” essay or photo may be circumspect when a machine produced the prizewinner. And can a sponsor really obtain the rights to use a winning piece if it was generated by a computer?

What’s a sponsor to do in the age of AI when it wants to run a legitimate skill-contest based on a person’s artistic aptitude? Here are some things to consider:

Be Clear About AI in Official Rules. In the current age of “more is more” in Contest Official Rules, it may not be enough to just say “submission must be entrant’s original work” because who needs a fight over what’s “original” when it comes to AI. Perhaps you can add: “Submission must be created in its entirety to the entrant and cannot be generated, in whole or in part, by Artificial Intelligence. Any work generated in whole, or in part, by Artificial Intelligence, as determined in Sponsor’s sole discretion, will be disqualified and any prize awarded based on such submission will be forfeited.”

How To Police AI-Generated Entries. Ok, you don’t want AI-generated entries, but how can you be assured they weren’t computer generated? There are programs and tools out there that can check the likelihood of text or photos being created using AI. But nothing is conclusive. If you go it on your own, I’m told that for AI-generated photos/artwork you want to look for anomalies in the image, such as mismatched earrings or warped facial features, and AI-generated essays often have repeated words and phrases, lack of analysis or inaccurate data. But again, you never know. At best, you have to rely upon the winner’s Affidavit of Eligibility which should include a statement to the effect that, “My submission was my own, original work and was not generated, in any part, by the use of Artificial Intelligence.”

Rights to AI. Whether you allow AI-generated material or whether some AI-generated material gets past your gatekeepers, you will typically want the rights to use the material for publicity purposes. This raises the question of whether you can obtain these rights to AI-generated material. Simply, when a machine creates it, who owns it? Only humans can be granted copyrights. For example, in 2018, the USPTO denied copyright to AI expert Dr. Steven Thaler for his AI-generated artwork, “A Recent Entrance to Paradise” because it found no human authorship. On the other hand, in February 2023, the USPTO did grant a copyright to graphic-novel artist Kris Kashtanova for their AI-generated comic book “Zarya of the Dawn” because there was human input in creating the comic book and its storyline. The rule, for now, is no copyright for AI-generated work, but copyright exists for “AI-assisted” work. This means that a Sponsor, and anybody else for that matter, ostensibly has the right to publicize AI-generated work.

But that doesn’t end the discussion. An AI program’s Terms of Service may have a say in whether an entrant can assign (or wholly transfer) all rights to an AI-generated submission. While most AI programs give (or assign) a person rights to the AI-generated content the program produces for that person, a particular AI program’s Terms of Service may have limitations, such as whether the person paid for the service, whether the program retains any rights to the material or whether the person can further assign their rights or use the material for commercial purposes. Without knowing what AI program may have been involved in generating the submission, a sponsor cannot feel fully comfortable with its “rights” to this material AI.

Fortunately or unfortunately, AI is here to stay. The ”Godfather of AI”, Geoffrey Hinton, may have been harkening to the warning of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when he said, “These things could get more intelligent than us and could decide to take over, and we need to worry now about how we prevent that happening.”