Google Sidelines Engineer Who Claims Its A.I. Is Sentient

Google placed an engineer on paid leave recently after dismissing his claim that its artificial intelligence is sentient.

Blake Lemoine, a senior software engineer in Google’s Responsible A.I. organization, said in an interview that he was put on leave Monday. The company’s human resources department said he had violated Google’s confidentiality policy. The day before his suspension, Mr. Lemoine said, he handed over documents to a U.S. senator’s office, claiming they provided evidence that Google and its technology engaged in religious discrimination.

Google said that its systems imitated conversational exchanges and could riff on different topics, but did not have consciousness. “Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our A.I. Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims,” Brian Gabriel, a Google spokesman, said in a statement. “Some in the broader A.I. community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general A.I., but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient.” The Washington Post first reported Mr. Lemoine’s suspension.

For months, Mr. Lemoine had tussled with Google managers, executives and human resources over his surprising claim that the company’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA, had consciousness and a soul. Google says hundreds of its researchers and engineers have conversed with LaMDA, an internal tool, and reached a different conclusion than Mr. Lemoine did. Most A.I. experts believe the industry is a very long way from computing sentience.

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