It wasn’t science that convinced Google engineer Blake Lemoine that one of the company’s AIs is sentient. Lemoine, who is also an ordained Christian mystic priest, says it was the AI’s comments about religion, as well as his “personal, spiritual beliefs,” that helped persuade him the technology had thoughts, feelings, and a soul.
“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,” Lemoine said in a recent tweet. “Who am I to tell God where he can and can’t put souls?”
Lemoine is probably wrong — at least from a scientific perspective. Prominent AI researchers as well as Google say that LaMDA, the conversational language model that Lemoine was studying at the company, is very powerful, and is advanced enough that it can provide extremely convincing answers to probing questions without actually understanding what it’s saying. Google suspended Lemoine after the engineer, among other things, hired a lawyer for LaMDA, and started talking to the House Judiciary Committee about the company’s practices. Lemoine alleges that Google is discriminating against him because of his religion.
Still, Lemoine’s beliefs have sparked significant debate, and serve as a stark reminder that as AI gets more advanced, people will come up with all sorts of far-out ideas about what the technology is doing, and what it signifies to them.