Day: October 21, 2020

Can things invent things? Do algorithms dream of owning patents?

In a new world of AI, and in light of AI policy being developed in a myriad of areas, we must not forget to determine how to reward and encourage innovation that derives from AI sources….

The first patent in human history was awarded in England in 1331, and in the 15th Century, many European nations began to use them, such as Florence who granted a patent for a marble carrying barge. The inventor of this vehicle was the first owner of an idea. In the 18th Century led by the United Kingdom and soon others such as the United States what we now understand as the patent system formed, and gave inventors incentives to disclose to the world their inventions in return for a monopoly period.

The ever-evolving legal framework governing the protection of inventions has played a crucial role in developing medicines and novel technologies across sectors. Modern patent law permits software to be patented. This has led to a revolution in innovation and catapulted humanity into the age of the knowledge society. The next frontier is to determine whether the owner of software or author of an algorithm can own the inventions by those electronic products.

Machine learning and the broader term artificial intelligence (AI) are the hopefuls of tech companies striving for more automation, tailored solutions, and faster research. While companies invest nearly 50 billion US Dollars on AI, there’s still a lack of clarity on how to protect the fruits of their inventions. Current patent law states fairly straightforward that inventions can only be made by humans. Bruce Love of the Financial Times describes this as ‘Things cannot invent things.’

Current patent law does not allow corporations to be the inventors of things but allows them to own patents. The challenge of AI inventing new ideas, technologies, and even drugs is that international patent law did not foresee that anyone but humans would have the actual cognitive capacity to create something inventive, and only humans would need recognition in a system designed to reward such ingenuity.

Recently, this focus on the human inventor has been tested: In 2018, several patent applications were filed in the name of Dr. Stephen Thaler for inventions purportedly invented by an artificial intelligence (AI) named DABUS (Device for the Autonomous Bootstrapping of Unified Sentience). On the grounds that DABUS independently conceived of the inventions, and that no human inventor could be identified, the applications list DABUS as the sole inventor.

Formal inventorship requirements vary across different jurisdictions, but the USPTO, the EPO and the UK IPO have all rejected the possibility that DABUS can be named as an inventor on the patent applications, reaching the common consensus that, under current legislation, an inventor must be a ‘natural person’ for the purposes of a patent application.

The question of whether an AI can be an inventor is not merely academic, but part of a broader point about AI inventions and their commercial reality. Being an inventor conveys certain legal rights, and is integral to the concept of patent ownership.  Under the UK Patents Act 1977, the right to grant of a patent belongs first to the inventor.  An AI has no legal personality and if it invents then no one has a right to the invention as a patent.

Whether the law requires an update is a question that has garnered increasing attention in with the UK government opening a consultation on the matter in September 2020, and a third WIPO session on Intellectual Property and AI scheduled for November 2020.  The level of interest is understandable when we consider the history of patents, the public policy rationale and the ‘patent bargain,’ which grants a 20-year patent monopoly to an inventor for two reasons: (i) To have inventors share what they learn, so others coming after them can build on their ideas; and (ii) to reward investment in research.  As we have seen, the starting place for the grant of a patent has so far been the human inventor, the ‘natural person,’ albeit a company can then own and exploit the patent.  However, as the DABUS cases show, the questions we need to be asking now are: Does it matter if there is no human inventor?  What does it mean for investment and transparent sharing of learning, if a company cannot obtain a patent because the inventor was an AI? 

These questions may not seem that pressing at the moment, so far there has been no outcry that businesses are failing to obtain patents because of arguments concerning AI inventors.  However, an inability for a company to see a return on its investment in research is likely to change the business interest in these questions quickly. If this happens, policy makers will have to consider the patent bargain, and grapple with questions such as: If patents for AI inventions generated by AI are not available, will businesses stop publicly sharing their knowledge and/or struggle to obtain investment, and is that a problem? Does the cost of development of using AI warrant patent protection, or are inventions generated by is AI based on a comparatively cheap form of research that shouldn’t be afforded the same protection as other inventions? Is financial investment in research worthy of policy protection at all, or is it the human endeavour which we seek to reward? In particular, policy makers will have to decide what the purpose of the patent system is and whether, on balance, there is a sufficient policy reason to change it.

With humanity being at the brink of a new age and about to unleash a massive acceleration in our innovative potential thanks to artificial intelligence development, we must ask if it is time to update our patent laws. Without reflecting the fact that machines and algorithms have inventive capabilities we might miss out on investments and innovations that can elevate all of mankind. Think of algorithms that might only need days to find a vaccine for a new virus, smarter law enforcement methods, or programs that help us understand interstellar travel better than we could have ever imagined.  

In a new world of AI, and in light of AI policy being developed in a myriad of areas, we must not forget to determine how to reward and encourage innovation that derives from AI sources.

Originally published here.

Vaping is a Gateway OUT of Smoking, Study Finds

E-cigarettes help adults quit smoking and are not a gateway to tobaccco for non-smokers, according to a study published earlier today.

The report, from the World Vapers’ Alliance and the Consumer Choice Centre, also found that youth smoking rates are at an all-time low.

The findings are at odds with the frequently used argument that e-cigarettes encourage non-smoking teens to take up the habit. 

World Vapers’ Alliance director, Michael Landl, said:

“The most common arguments against vaping – painting vaping as a gateway to smoking – fail the test of reality and science.

“Vaping helps adult smokers to quit and youth use of e-cigarettes is rare, particularly by non-smokers.”

The researchers looked at smoking rates in the UK, where public health authorities support vaping as a smoking cessation method.

Here, the smoking rate is at a record low with the vast majority of vapers being ex-smokers and dual users.

Image source: Consumer Choice Centre

Report co-author Maria Chaplia said that most anti-vaping arguments ignored the fact that e-cigarettes were targeted at adult smokers.

Chaplia noted that e-cigarettes were comparable to sugar substitutes that help people reduce sugar intake.

She said:

“We don’t blame sugar substitutes for increased sugar consumption, yet doing so for e-cigarettes seems to be acceptable.” 

The main findings of the report include:

  • That nicotine is not the issue, the toxins in cigarettes are and that almost all the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke.
  • E-cigarettes help adults to quit smoking and are twice as effective as nicotine replacement therapies
  • Vaping does not lead to smoking among teenagers as their smoking rate is at an all time low.
  • Youth use of e-cigarettes is rare.
  • Banning flavours won’t solve the problem: restrictions and bans on flavours will significantly limit the usefulness of vaping as a cessation tool.

Landl concluded:

“Policymakers cannot ignore the facts any longer.

“The scaremongering about vaping needs to stop and it should be endorsed as an effective tool to help smokers move to a safer alternative by public health agencies.”

Originally published here.

Le sigarette elettroniche sono una porta di uscita dal fumo

Un nuovo paper del Consumer Choice Center affronta il tema dell’effetto gateway ed esorta la politica a promuovere l’e-cigarette.

Di Barbara Mennitti| SIGMAGAZINE

Si intitola “Vaping and the gateway myth” (lo svapo e il mito dell’effetto gateway) il nuovo Policy paper appena pubblicato dal Consumer choice center, l’organizzazione americana (ma con sede anche in Europa) ormai sempre più attiva nella difesa della sigaretta elettronica. A firmare il documento sono Maria Chaplia, European affairs associate del Ccc, e Michael Landl, direttore della rete di associazioni di consumatori World Vapers’Alliance, fondata lo scorso maggio proprio grazie a un contributo iniziale dell’organizzazione. Scopo del paper è quello di fornire una base di argomenti che dimostri come la sigaretta elettronica sia uno strumento per abbandonare il fumo e non per arrivarci.

Read the full article here.

How to feed 11 billion people?

If the EU wants to fight global hunger, it needs to stop food elitism, writes the Consumer Choice Centre’s Fred Roeder.

By 2070 the world will be populated by approximately 10.5 billion people. This means that we will need to be able to feed a further three billion people. Fortunately, technological advances in agriculture and technology have already helped us provide food for an extra 5.5 billion people in the last century compared to the two billion that populated the earth in 1920. Stanford University estimates that if we were to still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farming land equivalent to the size of Russia to earn the same yields as current technology.

Unfortunately, the current political narrative in one of the world’s wealthiest regions seems to ignore the challenges ahead of us and wants us to turn to less efficient farming. The European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy sets out to create a more sustainable food system by the end of this decade. However, looking at the current proposals, it is worrisome that this new policy framework will achieve the opposite of sustainable farming and could lead not just Europe but the entire world to a food crisis with massive geopolitical ramifications.

“Stanford University estimates that if we were to still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farming land equivalent to the size of Russia to earn the same yields as current technology”

The EU plans to increase the share of organic farming as a total of agricultural production from the current level of 7.5 percent to 25 percent by 2030. Additionally, they plan to reduce pesticide use by half. At the same time, the F2F strategy does not embrace new technologies that allow farmers to achieve the same yields they are able to produce using the current level of pesticides.

More organic farming in Europe means lower yields of EU food production and higher prices for consumers. The shortage in Europe will be likely compensated by additional food imports from other parts of the world. This will lead to a global increase in food prices. For affluent regions of the world such as Europe, this will be rather a nuisance for consumers. But for people already living at the edge of existence and facing hunger, this will have very negative consequences.

In India, home to a fifth of the world’s population, the country’s caste system means that farmers of the lowest caste live and farm on land that is more likely to experience regular flooding, resulting in poor or destroyed rice harvests. However, using gene editing, we can produce rice crops that can submerge underwater for up to two weeks and still provide high yields. Such technologies are a clear game-changer for the poor and hungry and should be embraced. There’s no humanitarian case against them but a strong one for them.

Unfortunately, many critics of pesticides also oppose the use of gene editing. This can result in lower food production in the face of growing demand.

“We indeed all share one planet and we therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem for one in ten of us every day”

We all saw the dramatic refugee crisis in 2015, including all the terrible suffering and drowning in the Mediterranean. While the EU’s policies did not trigger this crisis, our future agricultural policies could cause widespread famines in parts of Africa and Asia. We indeed all share one planet and we therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem for one in ten of us every day. No one wants to see people forced from their homes because of starvation, but, with just a few adjustments of the EU’s future agricultural policies, we can mitigate many of the negative drivers of poverty and hunger.

The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy needs to take this into account and not jeopardise our ability to feed an ever-growing population.

Originally published here.

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