Tech giant Google has fired one of its engineers who said the company’s artificial intelligence system has feelings.
Last month, the engineer, Blake Lemoine, raised concerns with his theory that Google’s language technology has a “soul” and should therefore have its “wants” respected.
Google, plus several AI experts, denied the claims, and on Friday, the company confirmed he had been sacked.
A Google spokesman, Chris Pappas, said Mr Lemoine, a senior software engineer in its responsible A.I. organisation, “chose to persistently violate clear employment and data security policies that include the need to safeguard product information.”
Mr Lemoine told BBC.com he is getting legal advice and declined to comment further.
LaMDA is a breakthrough technology that Google says can engage in free-flowing conversations, and it is the company’s tool for building chatbots.
Blake Lemoine started making headlines last month when he said LaMDA was showing human-like consciousness, which sparked discussion among AI experts and enthusiasts about the advancement of technology that is designed to impersonate humans.
Mr Lemoine, who worked for Google’s Responsible AI team, told The Washington Post that his job was to test if the technology used discriminatory or hate speech and later found out that LaMDA showed self-awareness and could hold conversations about religion, emotions, and fears. This led Mr Lemoine to believe that behind its impressive verbal skills might also lie a sentient mind.
Google dismissed his findings, and he was placed on paid leave for violating the company’s confidentiality policy.
Mr Lemoine then published a conversation he and another person had with LaMDA, to support his claims.
Big Technology first reported his firing in its newsletter.
In its statement, Google said it takes the responsible development of AI “very seriously” and published a report detailing this. It added that any employee concerns about the company’s technology are reviewed “extensively” and that LaMDA has been through 11 reviews.
“We wish Blake well”, the statement ended.
Mr Lemoine is not the first AI engineer to go public with claims that AI technology is becoming more conscious. Also, last month, another Google employee shared similar thoughts with The Economist.