- A Google engineer said he was placed on leave after claiming an AI chatbot was sentient.
- Blake Lemoine published some of the conversations he had with LaMDA, which he called a “person.”
- Google said the evidence he presented does not support his claims of LaMDA’s sentience.
An engineer at Google said he was placed on leave Monday after claiming an artificial intelligence chatbot had become sentient.
Blake Lemoine told The Washington Post he began chatting with the interface LaMDA, or Language Model for Dialogue Applications, last fall as part of his job at Google’s Responsible AI organization.
Google called LaMDA their “breakthrough conversation technology” last year. The conversational artificial intelligence is capable of engaging in natural-sounding, open-ended conversations. Google has said the technology could be used in tools like search and
, but research and testing is ongoing.
Lemoine, who is also a Christian priest, published a Medium post on Saturday describing LaMDA “as a person.” He said he has spoken with LaMDA about religion, consciousness, and the laws of robotics, and that the model has described itself as a sentient person. He said LaMDA wants to “prioritize the well being of humanity” and “be acknowledged as an employee of Google rather than as property.”
He also posted some of the conversations he had with LaMDA that helped convince him of its sentience, including:
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?
But when he raised the idea of LaMDA’s sentience to higher-ups at Google, he was dismissed.
“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),” Brian Gabriel, a Google spokesperson, told The Post.
—Tom Gara (@tomgara) June 11, 2022
Lemoine was placed on paid administrative leave for violating Google’s confidentiality policy, according to The Post. He also suggested LaMDA get its own lawyer and spoke with a member of Congress about his concerns.
The Google spokesperson also said that while some have considered the possibility of sentience in artificial intelligence “it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient.” Anthropomorphizing refers to attributing human characteristics to an object or animal.
“These systems imitate the types of exchanges found in millions of sentences, and can riff on any fantastical topic,” Gabriel told The Post.
He and other researchers have said that the artificial intelligence models have so much data that they are capable of sounding human, but that the superior language skills do not provide evidence of sentience.
In a paper published in January, Google also said there were potential issues with people talking to chatbots that sound convincingly human.
Google and Lemoine did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.