Gentoo Linux tells AI-generated code contributions to fork off

A good PR move opines community member

AI-generated and assisted code contributions are no longer allowed in the Gentoo Linux distribution.

A ban on AI-made code was originally proposed on February 27 by Michał Górny, a member of Gentoo's council, an elected committee that governs the Linux distro. Górny argued for an AI ban for three major reasons: potential copyright infringement, quality control issues, and ethical considerations over AI's high power consumption and the role of major corporations in shaping the technology.

Copyright is certainly becoming a chronic issue for AI models, which may or may not be trained on protected materials, with Nvidia one of the latest companies to be sued. AI is also known to produce nonsensical text and code, and has even been observed to hallucinate entire software packages.

Beyond banning AI code submissions, Górny said he also wanted Gentoo to offer something unique for the Linux community.

"I think it's a good PR move for Gentoo right now," Górny told The Register. "When a lot of projects are being enthusiastic about 'AI,' I feel that many Gentoo users really appreciate the old school approach to software engineering where humans matter more than 'productivity.'"

The ban and its proposal were preemptive and not the result of any specific incident in the Gentoo community. "We are taking early precautions," Górny explained.

AI is fully banned, but probably not forever

The council originally discussed Górny's proposed ban on March 10 at its scheduled monthly meeting. However, no action was taken since the wording of the ban wasn't yet formulated and many council members wanted to hash out more details. The ban was finally enacted during the council's meeting on April 14, where it passed six to zero, with one member being absent from the vote.

"My personal opinion is that we're just starting with the topic," Górny said. "I suspect we're going to see more user feedback when we actually announce it properly, and users learn about it."

The Gentoo community had discussed the potential ban in email threads and IRC chat rooms, and Górny said there was a consensus that "some restrictions" should be put in place. With the ban in full force, it could encourage more Gentoo community members to share their opinions on AI.

Of course, enforcing the ban would be challenging; how can someone distinguish between code written by an actual human and one written by a machine? In Górny's view, the effectiveness of the ban isn't really the point.

"Our primary goal is to make it clear what's acceptable and what's not, and politely ask our contributors to respect that," he said, adding that the AI ban is mainly an extension of current rules on copyrighted code.

"If we receive contributions that contain really 'weird' mistakes, the kind that doesn't seem likely to be caused by a human error, we're going to ask questions, but I think that's the best we can do," Górny added.

However, the ban explicitly includes a clause that states the policy can be revisited in the future, an addition that some council members explicitly asked for. "Things may have changed a lot (or not at all) by a year, as things are moving quickly," council member Sam James said.

The council has already foreseen a future case where they make an exception for AI – a model trained specifically on Gentoo. This would (in theory) eliminate concerns over copyright infringement, and could potentially result in higher quality code. ®

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