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WP: Google suspends employee who stood up for artificial intelligence

Google has suspended a programmer who claimed that the tech giant’s LaMDA language model has consciousness, the Washington Post reports.

According to the newspaper, the developer Blake Lemoine insists that Google’s LaMDA language program not only can perform the functions of a chatbot, mimicking speech, „absorbing trillions of words from the Internet”, but also has a consciousness. This is the conclusion the engineer came to after working with LaMDA, the newspaper points out. Since last fall, Lemoyne has been testing whether the language model uses discriminatory vocabulary, the paper explains. The chatbot wrote about its rights and discussed Isaac Asimov’s robotics laws, a company employee shared.

„If I didn’t know what it was – a computer program we recently created – I would have thought it was a 7- or 8-year-old kid who knows physics,” the publication quoted the 41-year-old programmer as saying.

He had tried to prove his findings to Google, but the company suspended him and sent him on paid leave, and he responded by revealing his „discovery” to the public, the newspaper wrote.
As the newspaper points out, Lemoine is not alone in his speculation, others have reported conversations with the „intelligent” program, attaching snippets of conversations to statements.

Google, on the other hand, explains that there is so much data being processed by the chatbot that the software does not need to understand what is being written, the report says. The scientists quoted in the article, for their part, believe that the dialogue that seemed reasonable to the programmers might have been simple quotes from Internet encyclopedias or forums. The suspended engineer, meanwhile, tried to corroborate his findings with parts of the dialogue where the chatbot talks about fears of being disabled, the paper reported.

Lemoyne was placed on leave for breaching privacy principles, among other things, after he hired a lawyer to represent LaMDA, the paper said.

„In a statement, Google spokesman Brian Gabriel said: 'Our team, including ethicists and technologists, considered Blake’s concerns in line with our artificial intelligence principles and told him that the evidence did not support his claims. He was told that there is no evidence that LaMDA is intelligent, and plenty of evidence against it,” the paper quotes the company’s position.

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