At first glance, a recently granted South African patent relating to a food container based on fractal geometry seems fairly mundane.
The innovation in question involves interlocking food containers that are easy for robots to grasp and stack. On closer inspection, the patent is anything but mundane. That’s because the inventor is not a human being it is an artificial intelligence (AI) system called DABUS, says Meshandren Naidoo, PhD Fellow and LexisNexis Legal Content Researcher and Editor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, in an The Conversation article.
DABUS (which stands for device for the autonomous bootstrapping of unified sentience ) is an AI system created by Stephen Thaler, a pioneer in the field of AI and programming.
The system simulates human brainstorming and creates new inventions. DABUS is a particular type of AI, often referred to as creativity machines because they are capable of independent and complex functioning. This differs from everyday AI like Siri, the voice of Apple’s iPhones, he says.
The patent application listing DABUS as the inventor was filed in patent offices around the world, including the US, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. But only South Africa granted the patent (Australia followed suit a few days later after a court judgment gave the go-ahead).
South Africa’s decision has received widespread backlash from intellectual property experts. Some have labelled it a mistake, or an oversight by the patent office. ‘However, as a patent and AI scholar whose PhD aims to address the gaps in patent law created by AI inventorship, I suggest that the decision is supported by the government’s policy environment in recent years.
This has aimed to increase innovation, and views technology as a way to achieve this,’ Naidoo says. Creativity machines can process and critically analyse data, learning from it. This process is known as machine learning. Once the machine learning phase has occurred, the machine is able to autonomously create without human intervention. As has been seen in the Covid pandemic, as just one example, AI is able to solve problems humans were unable to and also much faster than people can.