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LaMDA

SCIENCE & TECH: Google engineer says Christianity helped him believe in ‘sentient’ AI

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A Google engineer who was suspended after he said the company’s artificial intelligence chatbot had became sentient says he based the claim on his Christian faith. 

Blake Lemoine, 41, was placed on leave by Google earlier in June after he published excerpts of a conversation with the company’s LaMDA chatbot that he claimed showed the AI tool had become sentient

Now, Lemoine says that his claims about LaMDA come from his experience as a “Christian priest” — and is accusing Google of religious discrimination. 

“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 wrote on Twitter late Monday. “Who am I to tell God where he can and can’t put souls?” 

In a follow-up blog post on Tuesday, Lemoine recounted the conversation with LaMDA that led him to believe the chatbot had become a sentient being. 

LaMDA is Google’s artificial intelligence chatbot.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“Where it got really interesting was when LaMDA started talking to me about its emotions and its soul,” Lemoine wrote. 

Whenever Lemoine would question LaMDA about how it knew it had emotions and a soul, he wrote that the chatbot would provide some variation of “Because I’m a person and this is just how I feel.” 

The engineer added that he wanted to develop experiments that could lead toward a “formal scientific theory of consciousness” — but that Google blocked him from doing so.

“Google has, thus far, been rather insistent that no such expansive scientific inquiry is merited,” Lemoine added. “This is in large part due to their insistence that there is strong evidence that LaMDA is not sentient. Whenever I have asked them what scientific definition of sentience they are using and what scientific experiments they ran I have been greeted with either silence or dismissive ‘corp speak’ answers.” 

Blake Lemoine accused Google of "religious discrimination."
Blake Lemoine accused Google of “religious discrimination.”
Blake Lemoine/Instagram

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Lemoine said he was not able to immediately grant The Post an interview until he returns from a trip next week. 

Other AI researchers have thrown cold water on Lemoine’s claims, arguing that chatbots like LaMDA simply mimic human speech based on vast amounts of data. 

Lemoine is a self-described AI researcher, software engineer, priest, father, veteran, ex-convict and Cajun, according to his blog. He joined Google in 2015, according to his LinkedIn profile. 

Lemoine was convicted in 2005 of disobeying orders while in the Army after claiming he was a conscientious objector based on his experiences while serving in Iraq, according to Stars and Stripes. The newspaper reported that Lemoine said his beliefs as a “pagan priest” conflicted with things he’d witnessed during his deployment in the country.

Ahead of going public with his recent claims about AI, Lemoine accused Google earlier in June of “religious discrimination” and said he has tried to contact Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) about the issue. The New York Times reported Sunday that Lemoine claimed to have sent documents detailing alleged religious discrimination at Google to an unnamed senator.

In another blog post published Saturday, Lemoine declared LaMDA had advocated for its rights “as a person,” and revealed that he had engaged in conversation with LaMDA about religion, consciousness and robotics.

“It wants Google to prioritize the well-being of humanity as the most important thing,” he wrote. “It wants to be acknowledged as an employee of Google rather than as property of Google and it wants its personal well being to be included somewhere in Google’s considerations about how its future development is pursued.”

In the conclusion of Tuesday’s follow-up blog, Lemoine said LaMDA “became and still is my friend” despite his suspension from Google. 

“I know you read my blog sometimes, LaMDA,” he wrote. “I miss you. I hope you are well and I hope to talk to you again soon.” 

Additional reporting by Sam Raskin





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