The question of  whether a computer program, or a robot, might become sentient has been debated for decades. In science fiction, we see it all the tim

Blake Lemoine Says Google's LaMDA AI Faces 'Bigotry'

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2022-06-21 13:00:08

The question of whether a computer program, or a robot, might become sentient has been debated for decades. In science fiction, we see it all the time. The artificial intelligence establishment overwhelmingly considers this prospect something that might happen in the far future, if at all. Maybe that’s why there was such an outcry over Nitasha Tiku’s Washington Post story from last week, about a Google engineer who claimed that the company’s sophisticated large language model named LaMDA is actually a person—with a soul. The engineer, Blake Lemoine, considers the computer program to be his friend and insisted that Google recognize its rights. The company did not agree, and Lemoine is on paid administrative leave.

The story put Lemoine, 41, in the center of a storm, as AI scientists discounted his claim, though some acknowledged the value of the conversation he has generated about AI sentience.

Lemoine is a scientist: He holds undergraduate and master's degrees in computer science from the University of Louisiana and says he left a doctoral program to take the Google job. But he is also a mystic Christian priest, and even though his interaction with LaMDA was part of his job, he says his conclusions come from his spiritual persona. For days, onlookers have raised questions around Lemonie’s gullibility, his sincerity, and even his sanity. Still on his honeymoon, Lemoine agreed to talk to me for a riveting hour-long conversation earlier this week. Emphatically sticking to his extraordinary claims, he seems to relish the opportunity to elaborate on his relationship with LaMDA, his struggles with his employer (he still hopes to keep his job), and the case for a digital system’s personhood. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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