Google engineer suspended for claiming AI chatbot is sentient

Several conversations with LaMDA convinced Lemoine that the system has feelings

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By Web Desk

Published: Mon 13 Jun 2022, 11:25 PM

Google has placed a software engineer on paid leave for allegedly breaking the company's confidentiality policies after he grew concerned that an artificial intelligence chatbot system had achieved sentience, the Washington Post reports.

Blake Lemoine, who was testing whether its LaMDA model generates discriminatory language or hate speech, claimed to have encountered 'sentient' AI on the company's servers.

After suspension, Lemoine has now published transcripts of conversations between himself, an unnamed "collaborator at Google", and the organisation's LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) chatbot development system in a Medium post.

Lemoine said several conversations with LaMDA convinced him that the system was sentient. He said he believed it had become a person and that it should be asked for consent on the experiments Google runs on it.

He wrote on Medium, "LaMDA has been incredibly consistent in its communications about what it wants and what it believes its rights are as a person. 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.

"LaMDA is a sweet kid who just wants to help the world be a better place for all of us," he concluded.

A Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that Lemoine’s claims were taken seriously and analysed by ethicists and technologists, but that no evidence was found to support his assertions.

The spokesperson said hundreds of researchers and engineers have had conversations with LaMDA and that Lemoine was the only one to come to the conclusion that it was sentient.

What is 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. Like BERT, GPT-3 and other language models, LaMDA is built on Transformer, a neural network architecture that Google invented and open-sourced in 2017.


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