In a breaking development, a Google employee has become a major whistleblower on a major Artificial Intelligence language program being developed by the tech company. Blake Lemoine, the employee in question shared a bombshell testimonial online that claimed that the new AI program named LaMDA after a Greek alphabet had become sentient aka susceptible to human-like feelings and thinking.
Naturally, this news caused an online storm and now everybody is talking about it. Lemoine was placed on forced leave from the company after this big information leak.
So, what is the truth of the matter? Has LaMDA actually become sentient or is it just an alarmist ploy to get attention? Let us dive in deeper.
LaMDA’s Short History
LaMDA or Language Models for Dialogue Applications is a new groundbreaking technology being developed by Google. It is in essence a machine learning model for a chatbot that can mimic human interactions artificially. So, even as Lemoine claimed that the program had become sentient, sounding like a human was the primary function of the program. It is why it was literally started.
However, tech experts understand that we are still some time away from actual sentient programs with self-realization and actual sentient feelings even though AI applications have already came a long way and are currently being used for multiple purposes such as generating content and actually replacing human writers with tools like Jasper.ai. Faking a human interaction through machine learning doesn’t equate to actual sentient leanings.
In fact, a similar program was unveiled by the CEO of Alphabet Sundar Pichai a few years back when he was newly promoted to the coveted role. Pichai showed a mock call between Google’s assistant to book a barber appointment with an actual human being. The call had some typical small glitches but worked curiously well. It received quite an applause from the reviewers and stated that it will make the lives of many ordinary people much easier.
So, the ability to mimic human interaction doesn’t exactly mean sentient powers, no matter how hard alarmists try to paint it that way.
Blake Lemoine- A Profile
Now let’s get back to Blake Lemoine, the whistleblower in this case. Lemoine is an ordained Christian pastor with mystic beliefs. He had been working on LaMDA for quite some time. He leaked his interactions with LaMDA regarding the latter’s religious discussions and beliefs. According to him, the way the program was keen to learn and express its views about religion were the reason why he thinks it became sentient.
“I’m a priest. When LaMDA claimed to have a soul and then was able to eloquently explain what it meant by that, I was inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt…, Who am I to tell God where he can and can’t put souls?”
He went on to say that this is why he believes the program had begun to think of its own.
However, it is quite obvious what happened. LaMDA is known to give extremely convincing answers and engage in general discussion without understanding what it is saying. The priest was probably looking for some mystic connections in a digital form with a confirmation bias.
While Lemoine has claimed that the company is trying to discredit him based on his religion. Surely everyone is free to practice the religion that he/she desires out of his/her free will or none at all. But, this is quite clearly a case of an alarmist priest taking blank conversations from a computer program that is designed to mimic human behaviour.
Concluding…Is LaMDA Actually Sentient?
This really depends on what people think sentient means. If it means the ability to communicate and process information effectively in real-time, then we don’t even have to look further than the AI assistant demo from Sundar Pichai a few years ago. That is quite sentient on its own and now LaMDA is the next iteration, a much more powerful one.
However, the definition of sentient doesn’t mean anything like that for most Computer Science futurists. Being sentient is not just putting out intelligent, yet regurgitated content from the internet with great linguistic skills.
Look, it would be great for us to experience an actual sentient being in our lifetime, but alarmists who are looking for souls or actual feelings in a program that is designed to mimic the way humans talk are just out there searching for the limelight or finding stuff where there is nothing. It wasn’t science that drove Lemoine to state this hypothesis about a sentient Google program. It was because he wanted the program to have feelings and beliefs. This is a very common occurrence and has taken place multiple times across the last two decades at least.
While Google as usual handled this matter badly, they are being very careful because of their recent history with the world governments. They are often reprimanded for privacy infringement and data leaks. They simply don’t want to be associated with developing a secret sentient program.