Google Fires Engineer Who Claims AI Is Conscious

SAN FRANCISCO — Google fired one of its engineers, Blake Lemoine, on Friday, more than a month after he raised ethical concerns about how the company tested an artificial intelligence chatbot that it believes has achieved consciousness.

A Google spokesman, Chris Pappas, said Lemoine, a senior software engineer at the Organization for Responsible AI, “chose to persistently violate clear employment and data security policies that include the need to protect product information.”

The company, which denies that the chatbot language model is sentient, had put Mr. Lemoine on paid leave in June. Mr Lemoine confirmed the resignation in a text message on Friday, saying he was meeting with lawyers to review his options. The shooting was first reported by the Big Technology newsletter.

Mr. Lemoine caused a stir last month when he told The Washington Post that he believed Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications, or LaMDA, was sentient — sparking fears that AI was moving closer to a dystopian sci-fi movie and a fierce debate over whether a computer program can really have a soul. His suspension also led to conspiracy theories about whether it was part of a cover-up by Google.

For Google, it was another in a series of homegrown controversies over the ethics and role of AI, an area of ​​technology on which the company has staked its future.

Mr. Lemoine’s claim that LaMDA is sentient has been criticized by the company and many other AI experts who have said that these types of chatbots — software that simulates a text-based conversation with another human, often used for customer service — are not advanced enough to be conscious.

“If an employee shares concerns about our work, as Blake did, we thoroughly review them,” Pappas said. “We found Blake’s claims that LaMDA is deliberate to be completely unfounded and worked to clarify that with him for many months.”

In addition to taking his concerns to the media, Lemoine said in June that he handed over documents to a US senator, whom he has not identified, claiming they provided evidence that Google and its technology were involved in religious discrimination.

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