Google has placed an engineer on leave after he claimed an artificial intelligence chatbot had become sentient and was capable of human thinking and reasoning.
Blake Lemoine was suspended last week after he told the company he believed its Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA, was a human with rights that may even have a soul. He was reportedly placed on leave for violating Google's confidentiality policies.
LaMDA is an internal Google Cloud system used to create chatbots that can mimic human speech.
Lemoine had been working on the system since last fall and described it as sentient with an ability to express thoughts and feelings equivalent to a human child.
"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," he told The Washington Post.
He published transcripts on Medium late last week of conversations between himself, a Google collaborator and LaMDA.
Lemoine said several of the 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.
"LaMDA has been incredibly consistent in its communications about what it wants and what it believes its rights are as a person," Lemoine wrote on Medium. "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 analyzed 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.
Systems like LaMDA work by imitating speech found in sentences of human conversation, the spokesperson said.
Lemoine told The Washington Post he is not trying to aggravate Google, but that he is standing up for what he believes is right. He hopes to retain his job at the company.