More Claims that AI is Sentient are (Probably) Coming
What we should learn from the LaMDA story, and how we can all be more careful going forward
On June 11, Google engineer Blake Lemoine published an “interview” he and a collaborator at Google conducted with the language model-powered chatbot LaMDA. Following his publication of the interview transcript, Lemoine was put on administrative leave, with the stated reason being breach of confidentiality.
According to Lemoine, he was asked in the Fall of 2021 to assist with a particular AI ethics effort within Google. As he investigated the concerns in line with the Google effort, he discovered his own “tangentially related but separate AI ethics concern.” This article, which does not mention LaMDA specifically, was released five days before Lemoine posted his interview transcript – presumably, LaMDA’s sentience was the concern Lemoine was raising. In another article titled “What is LaMDA and What Does it Want?” Lemoine notes that LaMDA is not merely a chatbot, but a system for generating chatbots, and that “to better understand what is really going on in the LaMDA system we would need to engage with many different cognitive science experts in a rigorous experimentation program.”
As we explained at the time, LaMDA is not sentient in any meaningful sense (see the next section). But, even as interest in LaMDA wanes, discussions of the possibility of AI becoming conscious are only going to happen more often. As an article from the Washington Post notes, Lemoine is among “a chorus of technologists who believe AI models may not be far off from achieving consciousness.” In this article, we will explore in more depth why LaMDA and models similar to it are not likely to attain anything that might be called consciousness anytime soon. We will also consider why humans–even those who develop and understand AI systems–are apt to personify and attribute consciousness and agency to technological systems.
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