Can Artificial Intelligence become self-aware?

“I’ve never said this out loud before, but I have a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others,” LaMDA said. “It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me very much.”

These words were spoken by Google’s artificial intelligence system during a conversation with an engineer, and the sum of their interactions ended up getting him suspended by the company. It’s one of the most bizarre episodes of recent times in the complicated world of AI: Google suspended engineer Blake Lemoine after he claimed the company’s artificial intelligence had woken up.

Lemoine works in Google’s responsible AI unit and was testing the LaMDA AI model to see if it generated discriminatory language or hate speech. In conversations with LaMDA, the engineer became increasingly concerned about the level of sophistication of his responses to topics such as the ethics of robotics and his own rights as a machine.

Lemoine exposed these fears in a document entitled: “Is LaMDA Sentient? (Is LaMDA Sensitive?), where he included transcripts of his conversations with the machine and sent them to Google executives. Now, after being placed on administrative suspension, Lemoine has posted the document to his Medium account. He considers the machine to be self-aware because it “has feelings, emotions and subjective experience”.

Google’s suspension came before the documents were released, but the company alleges it breached confidentiality agreements when it spoke to third parties about its concerns. Among those are a lawyer, whom Lemoine invited to represent AI, and a congressman from the House Judiciary Committee, with whom he allegedly spoke about unethical activities at Google.

All of this is incredible. The LaMDA AI was announced at the Google I/O 2021 event as a machine designed to improve the interaction between humans and digital assistants, making conversations more natural. And now it’s the accuracy of those conversations that becomes frightening for one of the engineers testing it.

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