A definition and license for open source compatible licensing of neural network weights
Unpacking the Misconception: AI and Neural Net Weights
In the realm of AI, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding that needs to be addressed–the assumption that the principles of open source software licensing can directly apply to Neural Net Weights (NNWs). The misconception stems from conflating two different artifacts – software source code and NNWs.
The software community created the open source concept as a means to make source code available to anyone for use, modification, and distribution. Source code is human-readable, which means anyone with programming skills can understand, debug, and enhance it. It was an overwhelming success.
NNWs are different. They represent the ‘knowledge’ an artificial neural network has learned and are often stored as large matrices of numbers. Unlike source code, NNWs are not human-readable nor debuggable. In simpler terms, you can’t look at a weight matrix and understand what it signifies or infer any specific knowledge from it.
Open source’s foundational freedoms–to run, study, redistribute, and modify software–do not translate easily to NNWs. While you can run and distribute NNWs, studying and modifying them is non-trivial, or functionally impossible.
The Urgent Need for Standardization
It is critical for the industry to develop and standardize on “Open Weights” licensing frameworks. These frameworks should align closely with the founding Four Freedoms of free software but should be specifically tailored for NNWs.
We need a standard for Open Weights that recognizes the unique nature of NNWs and provides legal and practical guidelines for their use, distribution and sharing. This requires collaboration from the entire AI community, including developers, researchers, legal experts, and regulatory bodies.
We do not believe that we should abdicate this question to governments. They are unlikely to come up with consistent or useful standards. We would like to follow the path of open source software to create voluntary community standards. We also want to avoid AI being banned, or innovation outlawed, because governments perceive AI as a threat to their power.
Also, we do not believe that a definition of Open Weights needs to import subjects such as privacy, human rights, or clearance of data inputs into its licensing principles. We know those are important topics, but they will take time to figure out. We are focused instead on the original idea of openness, and preserving the original goals of Freedom Zero of free software and open source. We encourage others to develop their own standards for restrictions and ethical licensing, and to participate in the legislative process to set the standards of society for proper use of AI, the information used to train it, and the information it produces. Also, we applaud those communities who are working on their own definitions. At OSS Capital, we have committed to sponsor the Open Source Initiative’s efforts in this regard, and we hope our efforts will dovetail. But we believe time is of the essence.
We believe that this definition should be developed in the open, much like open source software itself. Therefore this definition and license will be published on GitHub and the community will be invited to improve it.
The text in this repository is dedicated to the public domain under CC0. It is published by OSS Capital in June, 2023. If you change this document, please make clear that you do not speak for OSS Capital. If you contribute to this project, your contributions will also be under CC0.
Interactions for this project are subject to the Mozilla Community Participation Guidelines.