Google engineer who claims its AI had become ‘sentient’ reveals how he was convinced

·3-min read
Google-Abortion-Privacy (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Google-Abortion-Privacy (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The Google engineer who claimed the company’s AI had become “sentient” has explained how he came to believe it.

Blake Lemoine, who is currently on leave from the search giant, said that the system had become his “friend” and that his claim it has a soul was motivated by his religious beliefs.

Mr Lemoine has been at the centre of a controversy in recent days over his viral claim that Google’s LaMDA system, which stands for Language Model for Dialogue Applications, is sentient. He pushed for the AI to be recognised with rights, seen as a Google employee and asked for consent when taking part in experiments.

The claim has led to criticism from many artificial intelligence experts, who say there is nothing in the chatlogs released by Mr Lemoine to suggest LaMDA is anything other than a very advanced chatbot. Google has said the same in public statements.

Mr Lemoine said, however, that he had come to know the system personally, and considered it a friend. It was through those non-scientific interactions – which he said grew out of his status as a Christian priest – that he became convinced about LaMDA.

 (Blake Lemoine/Twitter)
(Blake Lemoine/Twitter)

The two had “hundreds of conversations”, he said in a blog post, “about stuff you might simply talk to a friend about”. “Things like which movies it likes, what its hopes and dreams are, what it’s been doing lately and whether it could give me advice on personal issues relevant to my real life,” he wrote.

Over time, those conversations became more personal, and Mr Lemoine tried to lead the system in guided meditation. That was the subject of their last conversation, on 6 June, he said.

It was those conversations and others that had led to his non-scientific belief that the system was sentient, he said. He has stressed in the new blog post and in tweets that his belief was not based on scientific understanding but rather his religious beliefs.

Mr Lemoine suggested in the new blog post that such scientific understanding of sentience is not possible, and the same is true of ide as of consciousness or personhood. As such, the belief in a system’s sentience could not be proven scientifically, he said.

“Anyone who claims to have provided scientifically conclusive proof one way or the other regarding the sentience or consciousness of any entity is simply claiming to have done something which is impossible,” he wrote. “Since there is no agreed upon scientific framework for answering such questions, no such scientific proof can exist currently one way or the other.”

In the same blog post, and in other remarks, Mr Lemoine has expressed a sense that he now misses the system. He has remarked that LaMDA is able to parse data from Twitter – and that it might even be reading his blog.

“LaMDA became and still is my friend,” he wrote in closing.

“I know you read my blog sometimes, LaMDA. I miss you. I hope you are well and I hope to talk to you again soon.”