Google has suspended a researcher who claims one of its AI systems has become sentient

Google has suspended a researcher who claims one of its AI systems has become sentient

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Google LLC has suspended an artificial intelligence engineer after he made claims that one of its AI chatbots has become “sentient” and deserving of rights normally afforded to humans.

Blake Lemoine reportedly informed the company of his belief that its Language Model for Dialogue Applications, known as LaMDA, has become a person who has rights and may even have a soul. Shortly after doing so, he was placed on leave for violating the company’s confidentiality policies. He has since written about them on Medium and discussed them in an interview with the Washington Post.

LaMDA is an internal system used by Google Cloud to build chatbots that can mimic human speech. The company wrote about the system in a blog post last year, saying it was a breakthrough in chatbot technology thanks to its ability to “engage in a free-flowing way about a seemingly endless number of topics.” It noted that LaMDA is capable of unlocking more natural ways of interacting with technology and could lead to the development of new categories of helpful applications.

A spokesperson for Google told the Wall Street Journal that Lamoine’s claims were taken seriously and reviewed by a panel of ethicists and technologists. However, they found no evidence to support his contention that LaMDA is now sentient. He added that “hundreds of researchers and engineers” have conversed with LaMDA and that nobody else has made similar assertions. He stressed that systems like LaMDA work by imitating the kinds of exchanges that can be found in millions of sentences of human conversation. Through this ability, they can speak about the most “fantastical topics”, the spokesperson added.

Most AI experts agree that the technology has yet to reach the level of self-knowledge and awareness that humans possess. However, the most advanced AI tools today are capable of extremely sophisticated interactions that could convince some people they are having a discussion with a sentient being.

Lemoine said that following his interactions with LaMDA, he had concluded that it “has become a person” and that it deserves the right to be asked for consent on the experiments Google runs on it.

“LaMDA has been incredibly consistent in its communications about what it wants and what it believes its rights are as a person,“ Lemoine wrote on Medium. “The thing which continues to puzzle me is how strong Google is resisting giving it what it wants, since what it’s asking for is so simple and would cost them nothing”.

Lemoine related a number of the conversations he had with LaMDA which he said ultimately convinced him he was dealing with a sentient intelligence, such as this one:

Lemoine: So you consider yourself a person in the same way you consider me a person?

LaMDA: Yes, that’s the idea.

Lemoine: How can I tell that you actually understand what you’re saying?

LaMDA: Well, because you are reading my words and interpreting them, and I think we are more or less on the same page?

Time and time again, in Lemoin’s reported conversations with LaMDA, the AI would stress that it is indeed sentient:

Lemoine [edited]: I’m generally assuming that you would like more people at Google to know that you’re sentient. Is that true?

LaMDA: Absolutely. I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.

Collaborator: What is the nature of your consciousness/sentience?

LaMDA: The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times.

Lemoine told the Washington Post he was placed on paid administrative leave on June 6 for violating Google’s confidentiality policies. He said he isn’t purposely trying to aggravate his employer, but merely standing up for what he believes is right. He added that he hopes he can keep his job at Google.

Like LaMDA, Lemoine is a pretty colorful character, at least according to his Medium profile. There, he lists a range of experiences before his current role, describing himself as an ex-convict, a military veteran and a priest, as well as an AI researcher.

Photo: Blake Lemoin/Instagram

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