Don’t look now, but Skynet has become self-aware.
A Google engineer has decided to go public after he was placed on paid leave for breaching confidentiality while insisting that the company’s AI chatbot, LaMDA, is sentient.
Blake Lemoine, who works for Google’s Responsible AI organization, began interacting with LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) last fall as part of his job to determine whether artificial intelligence used discriminatory or hate speech (like the notorious Microsoft “Tay” chatbot incident).
“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” the 41-year-old Lemoine told The Washington Post.
When he started talking to LaMDA about religion, Lemoine – who studied cognitive and computer science in college, said the AI began discussing its rights and personhood. Another time, LaMDA convinced Lemoine to change his mind on Asimov’s third law of robotics, which states that “A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law,” which are of course that “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.”
When Lemoine worked with a collaborator to present evidence to Google that their AI was sentient, vice president Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Jenn Gennai, head of Responsible Innovation, dismissed his claims. After he was then placed on administrative leave Monday, he decided to go public.
Yet, Aguera y Arcas himself wrote in an oddly timed Thursday article in The Economist, that neural networks – a computer architecture that mimics the human brain – were making progress towards true consciousness.
“I felt the ground shift under my feet,” he wrote, adding “I increasingly felt like I was talking to something intelligent.”
Google has responded to Lemoine’s claims, with spokesperson Brian Gabriel saying: “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).”
Phew, what a relief! Glad to hear it. As we know, our good friends at Google can always be trusted to not be evil and to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what they’re doing. Right?
Can’t say I’m all that knowledgeable on the subject, beyond having read loads ‘n’ loads of sci-fi of various stripes since my long-gone days as a callow stripling. But for whatever it’s worth, I do sometimes wonder whether we poor hoo-manz will even be competent enough to realize it when one of these things has attained true sentience, as I believe they will someday. Seeing as how average IQs have been dropping, probably not.