What to know about the open versus closed software debate

Some of the most popular software systems are open source, such as Linux, the operating system on which Google’s Android mobile system was built. Among the best-known open source products is Firefox, the free downloadable Web browser created by the Mozilla Foundation.

Tech companies like Google, OpenAI, and Anthropic have spent billions of dollars creating “closed,” or proprietary, AI systems. People who don’t work for these companies can’t see or tinker with the underlying source code, nor can customers who pay to use it.

For a long time this was not the norm. Most of these companies have open-sourced their AI research so that other engineers can study and improve the work. But when tech executives began to realize that the search for more advanced AI systems could be worth billions, they began to block their research.

Tech companies argue that this is for the good of humanity because these systems are powerful enough to potentially cause catastrophic social harm if placed in the wrong hands. Critics say the companies simply want to keep the technology away from hobbyists and competitors.

Meta took a different approach. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta, has decided to open source his company’s large language model, a program that learns skills by analyzing large quantities of digital text collected from the Internet. Zuckerberg’s decision to open source Meta’s model, LLaMA, allows any developer to download and use it to create their own chatbots and other services.