While the AI Horde will always be free for all, anyone can develop frontend for it and ask their users to pay for its use. This blogpost explains why this is OK so long as they give back as much as they take and how this is enforced.
Recently, a paid service built on top of the AI Horde was announced on reddit’s /r/stablediffusion and a big discussion opened on the ethics of charging people for money for access to the free compute provided by the AI Horde. I’ve talked about this in my discord with some users who were concerned, but I foresee it’s a subject that will keep coming up. So It’s a good time to clarify my position on this subject, “officially” as they say.
When I initially envisioned the AI Horde, this sort of question was foremost on my mind. “How to I prevent abuse of a crowdsourced system with unrestricted access for everyone?” My answer to this question was the Kudos system, which is baked-in on every usage of the AI horde.
Due to the “protection” of the kudos system, we can offer the AI Horde service as an open API for everyone, for any purpose. Knowing that whatever they do, they’ll have to either support the health of the service, or go back to the end of the queue. This allows us to not worry about who or how they’re using the service, because the kudos requirements are inescapable. This bears reiterating:
WE DO NOT CONTROL HOW OTHERS INTEGRATE WITH THE AI HORDE
Because we cannot control people, I am cognizant that people might try to charge money for their services based on the horde (which again, we cannot stop!) or even other technologies we wholly reject (like blockchain). But It doesn’t matter how someone uses the AI Horde; so long as they remain within the limits of the Kudos system, they will have to provide more to the AI Horde than they take out, which balances things out for everyone.
This is the practice of all open paradigms out there. They all rely on volunteer effort but allow people to find business models which can make them money, so long as they respect the open paradigm.
For example, the AI Horde is modeled after BitTorrent. It would be just as absurd to claim that the BitTorrent protocol itself is flawed because a Torrent client is charging money to their users, adding malware or integrating blockchain. Those users still have to play by the BitTorrent protocol and by whichever tracker rules they’re based on.
Likewise, even the most hardcore copyleft licenses like GPL explicitly allow commercial use of the software. Because people need to eat! It would likewise be absurd to say that the Linux kernel is unethical, because companies are making money selling stuff built on top of the Linux Kernel!
So knowing that open systems cannot control how other use them, and that the actions of integrators do not represent flaws of open system itself, we instead ask people to act in good faith. We request people to give back to he AI Horde as much, or more than they take. This means that everyone benefits. We likewise block registrations outside of the AI Horde and inform anyone registering that they can always use the AI Horde for free. This ensures that the owner of each service competes with every other free AI Horde UI out there. If their users still want to give them money after that, then they are obviously bringing something valuable to the table for those users. And again, that is OK with us, so long as they give back to the AI Horde according to their usage.
Finally, whatever one does, remember, they cannot escape the kudos system. A super popular front-end to the AI Horde which does not have at least a net zero consumption, will quickly find itself with such high queue times that will drive everyone else off their service.
The AI Horde is absolutely built to combat corporate influences and enshittification, however it is still an open service, and therefore it cannot control who uses it, without sacrificing that openness it is built on, or adding moderation overheads so massive that it would shutter the service.
Does that mean that everything goes? No of course not! As with the anti-CSAM filter, there’s a few rules that are of existential importance to the health of the AI Horde. For example another one is how one treats kudos themselves: I routinely remind people to not consider them a currency and to not assign any monetary value to them. The reason being that the exchange of kudos for money would introduce such immense perverse incentives into the equation, that it would cause the AI Horde development and moderators to switch full-time to countering scams and exploits instead of trying to improve the service. This is such a thick red line that I’m prepared to go to extremes to enforce it, even up to disabling kudos transfers altogether!
Fortunately until now people are following these directives, but what if tomorrow a service appeared whose business model relied on selling kudos they generated to their users, or which allowed people to bypass the anti-CSAM filter somehow? Well that would force me to take active means to counter such a service explicitly, which would easily escalate into an endless cat&mouse game at the detriment of the service. But it would be a necessary course of action. But the existence of a generic paid service however, outside of the violation of those rules for the AI Horde, does not necessitate it, precisely because it’s not an existential concern which would warrant the massive amount of resources that would have to be assigned to counter it.
All that said, I know people are still going to oppose the mere existence of integrations which found a way to make money using the AI Horde as a backend, even if those give back more than they take. Even if they help pay for the development and infrastructure of the AI Horde for the benefit of all. That is OK. Everyone should follow their conscience and values. I have even provided tools and controls for Workers to limit their exposure to practices they do not support, but even if those are not enough, then it is OK to not be part of the AI Horde.
This is also a reason why the AI Horde is Free/Libre Software. If someone else has a different ethical system on how crowdsourced compute resources like these should be handled, they are always welcome to host their own version of the AI Horde, in the same sense that anyone can host their own BitTorrent tracker, with any rules they want! I do honestly believe the current approach of the AI Horde, with unrestricted access is the way to go to democratize AI, but maybe I’m just wrong. It remains to be seen.
However, I do want to ask that people to do not share FUD about who we are affiliated with and what practices we support. The exact stance that we have, is what I have explained above.
At the end of the day, thousands of people are getting free Generative AI output currently and we do not plan to stop this access, ever. No matter who, or how they integrates into us. The AI Horde will always have a way to use it for free without restrictions!