AI: An ethical reflection

Jens J. Kramer, novelist
© Maurice Kohl

By Jens J. Kramer, writer, journalist, and former Chair at The Syndikat, Germany. 


The following is a speech given by Mr Kramer at the EWC Burning Issues Forum (BIF) held in Berlin on 3rd of June 2023. The BIF was made possible with the collaboration of EWC and the co-sponsors VG Wort and KulturWerk.

Socrates was sentenced to death for what he was teaching – for his words. A few years later, in 2018, the Rap musicians Kollegah and Farid Bang received a German music award, the Echo. Scandal! Their lyrics were misogynistic, anti-Semitic and racist. The jury was dissolved, the prize was canceled and the two musicians – no, they were not sentenced to death – but they had to answer for their lyrics. They invented the term satire and talked about freedom of speech. But that was bullshit. Their texts were misogynistic, anti-Semitic, racist.
In this year, 2023, an AI has synthetically cloned the dubbed voice of the Harry Potter character Hermine Granger, the actress Emma Watson, to voice Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” – Who is responsible?

Our democratic legal system is inextricably linked to an order of responsibility. The punishment for Socrates was cruel, but it was in line with the understanding of the law at that time. He accepted this responsibility. Even the two rap fools should have understood something. The AI understands – nothing!

So what went wrong here? Why do we accept such processes? Why is even the legislator tempted to grant rights to AI-based texts or other “cultural works” produced by it?

Law presupposes an awareness of itself. A society must first develop an awareness of the injustice of slavery before a right or prohibition could have been formulated from it. What awareness, then, has favored AI being able to claim such a legal space for itself. Here is one possible answer:

For over thirty years, we have increasingly lived in a world defined by the WWW. An essential element of this www is anonymity. It has been justified on the grounds that this is the only way to protect critics in authoritarian systems. This is still true. But the abuse of this anonymity has increased to a much greater extent. So we have become so accustomed to anonymous posting of comments and information. We have become accustomed to words no longer being tied to the responsibility of their originators. In this legal and responsibility dark space, AI has found its cozy nest. But it goes one step further. Or rather the protagonists who developed it and those who want to make use of it. They now claim rights. The right to freedom of expression, to satire, to artistic freedom, even to remuneration. They claim copyrights. The collecting societies are alarmed. And rightly so. The mass of AI-generated “cultural products” would foreseeably soak up much of the remuneration. May we mention here that AI training was only possible through the illegal use of the original authors’ works?

While the right to remuneration is an important issue, it is not the essential issue. The essential point is that any right we – or the legislator – grant to the AI would be a right without responsibility. That would be an elementary breach of the democratic legal order. We would be creating a dehumanized right. What that means, I can only leave to the imagination of all of you.

I dare to say that Socrates would never have entrusted the responsibility of his words to a dehumanized entity. Despite the cruel consequences for him. Law and responsibility are inseparable. That is the essence of democracy.

Footnote: This text has been translated by the AI-based program Deep L. But to make it clear: I take the responsibility.

Jens J. Kramer, SYNDIKAT e.V., German novelist. The Burning Issues Forum: 03/06/23 at Berlin.