Tuesday 23 November 2010

A Wikipedia that AI systems can safely learn from

Below is a letter I wrote in reply to a fundraising email from Jimmy Wales, for Wikipedia.  I heartily support the wonderful effect of Wikipedia, and was involved in nupedia, from whose ashes Wikipedia rose phoenix-like. However, I think that an inadvertent but serious error was made at Wikipedia’s founding – the adoption of GFDL instead of a truly free, CC 0 style license. I believe that the SA licence unnecessarily interferes with the freedom of Wikipedia users to use the content, and that that is regrettable. In the case of human users, though, the effect is mitigated by the difficulty of establishing what of their subsequent intellectual work is a derivative work of Wikipedia. For AI systems, though, this SA requirement implies a level of invasion of data privacy (the systems’ but also that of people they interact with) that is wholly unconscionable. The letter suggests a way to slowly remedy this, by building up, gradually, a truly free portion of Wikipedia.  I hope it is adopted.


I think this appeal will be effective. However, its effectiveness for me is reduced by the fact that it's not entirely true that "you can use the information in Wikipedia any way you want".  You cannot combine it with other information without infecting that combination with a "Share Alike" obligation that you are obliged to impose on others.

If you were able to persuade the Foundation to give creators of new articles a choice of creating them under a pure CC  licence, with no SA, and if it was permissible to create parallel articles, without reuse of SA content, under the truly FREE CC 0 licence, then Wikipedia would be truly free, as in freedom. And, if that happens, I will make Wikipedia my main object of charity, and will encourage others to do so. 

If not, perhaps you could modify the language in the appeal to be more legally accurate. However, even as flawed and unfree as it is, it remains at present, a wonderful thing, and I will probably continue to donate, a little reluctantly.”