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| 4 minutes read

AI Safety and Regulatory Capture: Open Source vs. Closed Source

The rapid evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly in the realm of large language models (LLMs), has sparked intense debate within the technology, legal, and regulatory communities. One significant area of this discussion is the dichotomy between open-source and closed-source models, particularly as it relates to AI safety, regulatory capture, and the broader implications for society and the tech industry. 

The Landscape of Large Language Models

LLMs like GPT-4, Bard, Claude, LLaMa and others have transformed how we interact with technology, offering capabilities ranging from text and image generation to complex problem-solving. These models are built on vast datasets and sophisticated algorithms, leading to their unprecedented performance. There are two primary approaches to their development and deployment: open source (e.g. LLaMa) and closed source (e.g. GPT-4).

Open Source LLMs

Open-source LLMs are developed with their source code publicly available, allowing for widespread access, collaboration, and modification by the global community. This approach is rooted in the philosophy of transparency and communal development, fostering innovation and diverse applications.

Benefits of open source development include:

  1. Transparency: Open source models offer visibility into their workings, promoting understanding and trust among users and developers.
  2. Collaborative Development: They benefit from the contributions of a broad community, leading to rapid advancements and diverse perspectives in development.
  3. Accessibility: Open source models are generally more accessible, providing opportunities for smaller organizations and researchers.

On the other hand, open-source models can face certain challenges to a greater degree than their closed-source counterparts, including:

  1. Quality Control Challenges: The open nature can lead to variations in quality and the potential introduction of biases or vulnerabilities by contributors.
  2. Security Risks: Open availability of the code could lead to exploitation by malicious actors.

Closed Source LLMs

Closed source LLMs, conversely, are proprietary models developed by organizations with restricted access to their internal workings. This approach emphasizes control, quality assurance, and commercial viability.

Benefits include:

  1. Controlled Development: These models can maintain consistent quality and adherence to organizational standards.
  2. Intellectual Property Protection: They allow organizations to protect their investments and innovations.

But they also present different challenges and limitations:

  1. Lack of Transparency: The closed nature can lead to skepticism and mistrust, especially regarding how the models are trained and the biases they might possess.
  2. Limited Accessibility: They are often less accessible to the wider community, potentially stifling broader innovation.

AI Safety Concerns

The distinction between open and closed source models becomes particularly significant in the context of AI safety. AI safety encompasses a range of issues, from ensuring models do not perpetuate biases to preventing their misuse.

Bias and Fairness

Both types of LLMs face challenges in ensuring fairness and avoiding biases. Open-source models, while benefiting from diverse inputs, might also inherit biases from a broader range of sources. Closed source models, controlled by a single entity, could reflect the biases of that entity or its data sources. Open-source models may also provide greater visibility into how they work, enabling a broader audience to identify and potentially address biases.

Misuse and Malicious Use

The risk of misuse is another critical concern. Open-source models, with their code and training methods available to the public, could be manipulated for nefarious purposes. Open-source models can be more easily taken and adapted for misuse. Closed-source models, while less accessible, are not immune to misuse, as their capabilities could be exploited if accessed, although modification of the core model to achieve such objectives would be much more difficult than with closed-source models.

Regulatory Capture

Regulatory capture – the phenomenon where regulatory agencies are dominated by the industries they are charged with regulating – poses a significant threat in the AI domain. This issue is exacerbated in the context of LLMs due to the complexity and novelty of the technology. The risk of regulatory capture by the dominant players in the LLM space is a heated topic of debate in the current environment, and while open-source models are not immune, regulatory capture is much more of a risk with closed-source models, particularly given the incentives of their owners.

Closed Source Models

In the case of closed-source models, regulatory capture can be more direct. Companies with proprietary models might leverage their resources and influence to shape regulations in a way that benefits their proprietary technology, potentially stifling competition and innovation. Heavy regulation also likely favors the largest closed-source providers, as they are better positioned to navigate such regulations, particularly the cost of compliance. Many pundits argue that the large LLM providers are pushing for significant regulation for this reason - i.e. it creates a moat and stifles their potential competition.

Open Source Models

With open-source models, regulatory capture is less of a concern, but it can still manifest in subtle ways. Large corporations or entities might disproportionately influence the development and norms of open-source projects through their contributions and resources. This influence could steer the direction of such projects in ways that favor these entities' interests, potentially at the expense of public welfare. Open-source projects are also generally not as well positioned to adapt to significant regulation and manage the corresponding costs, so extensive regulation can have the impact of favoring closed-source over open-source models, regardless of whether that was the intent.

The debate between open-source and closed-source large language models is not just a technical one; it's a reflection of broader concerns about AI safety, ethical development, and the role of regulation in the tech industry. There are trade-offs, competing interests and incentives, and unknowns on both sides. 


cybersecurity & privacy, artificial intelligence