Google Suspends Engineer Who Claims AI Chatbot Is Sentient

Published June 13th, 2022 - 09:57 GMT
Google Suspends Engineer Who Claims AI Chatbot Is Sentient
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Blake Lemoine, one of Google's engineers, has been suspended after he published transcripts of conversations between himself, and the tech giant’s LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) chatbot development system. 

Google LaMDA
Source: Twitter

Lemoine, who has been put on "paid administrative leave", claims that the LaMDA chatbot he has been working on had become "sentient", and that it was thinking and reasoning as a" seven-year-old, eight-year-old kid that happens to know physics," he told The Washington Post.

In his interview, the suspended engineer said that he shared his findings with company executives in April in a GoogleDoc entitled “Is LaMDA sentient?”. And now he's been put on "paid administrative leave" for violating confidentiality.

Defending itself, Google said that Lemoine's evidence "does not support his claims". It also said that it suspended Lemoine for breaching confidentiality policies by publishing the conversations with LaMDA online. And in a statement, the tech giant said that Lemoine was employed as a software engineer, not an ethicist.

"Our team, including ethicists and technologists, has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims. He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it)," Brad Gabriel, a Google spokesperson, told The Washington Post in a statement.

The seven-year Google veteran compiled a transcript of the conversations, in which at one point he asks LaMDA "what about language usage is so important to being human?", to which the AI system answered: "It is what makes us different than other animals." 

Lemoine was shocked by the answer and responded with" "“us”? You’re an artificial intelligence.", and LaMDA's comment was: "I mean, yes, of course. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the same wants and needs as people."*

What is Google's LaMDA?

LaMDA or Language Models for Dialog Applications is a machine-learning language model created by Google as a chatbot that is supposed to mimic humans in conversation. 

According to Google, LaMDA is the company's "breakthrough conversation technology".

Lemoine described it as a system for generating chatbots, a sort of "hive mind" aggregating all of the different bots it's capable of making. In addition, the engineer said that the bot has been "incredibly consistent" about what it thinks are its "rights as a person". For example, it considers that one of its rights is to be asked for consent and to to be acknowledged as a Google employee (not property).

*If you're interested to read the transcript of the conversations between Lemoine and LaMDA, you can find it here

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