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AI and US

July 6th, 2022 by dk

Google’s Artificial Intelligence project has been getting a lot of attention lately, since they suspended one of their engineers for insisting publicly that their program has become sentient. Blake Lemoine insists that Google’s chatbot generator LaMDA is now indistinguishable from “a sweet kid” who is seven or eight years old.

Google claims to have looked into the matter and determined that no, its computer code has not become self-aware. Lemoine has responded publicly that the program’s pre-adolescent desire to please has masked its intent. Lemoine told a Washington Post reporter that her questions were the problem. “You never treated it like a person,” he said, “So it thought you wanted it to be a robot.”

Lemoine chatted with LaMDA for several months as part of his job at Google, but it’s been his background as a mystic priest that has informed his ethical concerns. He has always been considered an outlier at Google. He grew up on a farm in Louisiana in a conservative Christian family before joining the Army and then exploring the occult.

Ethicists inside Google and around the planet have responded to Lemoine’s clarion call. The response we’ve heard most often from a wide array of voices is, “Not yet.” Most grant the possibility that trillions of lines of code could — or probably will — replicate the neural pathways of a human brain, but will it ever gain a soul?

That’s where the debate stalled until Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson got a new dog.

He had been grieving the loss of his most trusted companion, a dog named Latte. When his wife told him he’d been crying in his sleep, they both decided only a new puppy of the same breed could bring Gerson his needed relief. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that he had recently been reading Christian theology addressing whether Heaven will include dogs.

“Can dogs really love?” Gerson wrote. “Science might deny that the species possesses such complex emotions. But I know dogs can act in a loving fashion and provide love’s consolations. Which is all we really know about what hairless apes can manage in the love department as well.”

Returning to Google’s chatbot, can it fool a human into believing it’s a real person? Put another way, can it earn a person’s trust? Put yet one more way, can it express and elicit love? Or finally, will it gain a soul? In certain instances with certain people, it already has.

This should not surprise us. It matters as much what we believe about others as what they believe about themselves.

We’re already comfortable believing that an evil leader or a dementia patient or a mindless bureaucrat lacks a soul. Why wouldn’t we be willing to  insert an extra measure of soulfulness into a musician or a dog or a computer program?

Will sex bots curb the rampant loneliness that plagues America? Will AI soon be earning more customer satisfaction and loyalty than a flesh-and-blood empathetic human? Will we fail to notice when we’ve begun welcoming computer programs into our circle of trust? The answer to each is almost certainly, “Yes.”


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Wednesday and Sunday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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