One wet Sunday afternoon I was playing with an interface to OpenAI’s machine learning model, GPT-2, which was trained to predict the next word in a sentence and which can now generate articles of synthetic text based on a sentence provided to it. I typed, “Can AI own the copyright in the work that it has generated?” After a little pause, I would like to say for thought, the AI provided some text which did not make redundant the writing of this article but nevertheless was grammatically correct and very readable. It ended with a flourish saying, “and that is a philosophical, not a legal, question.”

Amusing, but increasingly and sometimes disconcertingly “human”, AI is now part of our daily lives. It finishes our sentences (for example, Gmail’s SmartCompose), it finds the information we need on a myriad of topics (think of Alexa and other voice assistants) and it curates the ads and news we view online [Note 1]. It is also doing things which we think of as being the exclusive reserve of humans; it is creating art works and writing music.

Not only that, but it is also very “clever”. DeepMind’s neural network, AlphaGo Zero, taught itself the complex game of Go and after three days beat its predecessor, AlphaGo, which had itself beaten the 18-times world champion. Other AI models are helping scientists discover new drugs and develop innovations in clean energy.

This raises interesting questions for intellectual property (“IP”). When AI writes an article, paints a picture or creates some music, who owns the resulting copyright in the work? When AI develops a new idea which might be patentable, who owns the invention?