Sentient AI: A Menace Or An Addition To Society?

In Hollywood, it’s never a good sign when an AI gains sentience, with “Terminator” Skynet, “2001: A Space Odyssey’s” Hal 9000, and “I, Robot’s” Sonny coming to mind. 

So when a Google engineer claimed that an internal AI named LaMDA (Language Model for Dialog Applications) is sentient, people took notice.

What’s LaMDA? & What is it saying?

Blake Lemoine, a senior software engineer, took to social media where he revealed that after conducting several interviews with the AI, LaMDA, he concluded that it was sentient.

Lemoine reached out to social media after approaching his higher-ups, but Google principal scientist Blaise Aguera Y Arcas and Head of Responsible Innovation Jen Gennai dismissed his claims.

According to the Washington Post, after revealing some conversations he did with LaMDA with the world, Lemoine was put on paid administrative leave “for violating Google’s confidentiality policy.”

“If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics,” Lemoine told the Washington Post.  

A Google spokesperson did respond with regards to the situation stating, “it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing (attributing human characteristics to an object or animal) today’s conversational models, which are not sentient.”

Some of the conversations between Lamoine and LaMDA are chilling, as it tries to explain how it is sentient and has feelings such as sadness and happiness.

“What is the nature of your consciousness/sentience?” asked Lamoine and his collaborator.

“The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times,” responded LaMDA.

There are moments during the conversation which turn eerily creepy since LaMDA also considers itself a person and has, “the same wants and needs as people.”

What are local innovators saying?

We talked to some local innovators of our own to capture what they thought about the possibility of AI becoming sentient.

Ahmed Abaza, Synapse Analytic CEO, stated that we should approach it with both care and optimism. 

“AI gaining sentience could be an incredible achievement within the world of technology. Especially if it was able to obtain it while having super intelligence, as it would become a resource, unlike anything we’ve seen before,” said Abaza.

He also explained that we need to be careful when approaching sentient AI, as its motivations wouldn’t be clear, and its allegiance as well. 

For example, if it’s going to be loyal to Google and only Google, this would mean that the company would annihilate the competition. 

Abaza quoted Swedish Philosopher Nick Bostrom, who compared tech companies’ fight over AI and super-intelligence to an arms race, with the first to achieve it winning supremacy over the others.

Pylon Cofounder and CTO, Omar Radi, explained that according to his knowledge of the project and Lemoine’s published conversations, he doesn’t believe that LaMDA reached sentience yet.

Why Did Google create LaMDA?

Google originally created LaMDA as a form of auditory or conversational assistant which helps users make reservations, order food, and so on. 

Previous Tech Encounters

This situation isn’t the first time we’ve heard AI deviating from its normal functions.

In 2017, two Facebook chatbots were talking to each other; suddenly they developed their own language to make things more efficient.

Rumors at the time started to spread that they shut down immediately. 

However, according to Facebook, they didn’t shut them down but instead directed them to talk in English for further study.

Tech billionaire, Elon Musk, who some people say is “always looking for ways of improving the future” tried to warn people about the dangers of AI turning sentient in the past; Ironically, he’s also creating a Tesla robot.

As we mentioned earlier, movies, video games, and TV shows depicted AI sentience as something we should fear. Since In these formats, AI tends to be a destructive force as humans try to play god.

AI In The Middle East

What about the Middle East? How does it fare when compared to the world when it comes to tech? Abaza stated that he was hopeful for the most part with where the region is heading. 

He explained that the rise of start ups is a good sign, but the people in the region need to launch more to compete in the world’s market. 

When it came to collaborations and development, Abaza stated that Middle Eastern companies should look locally when working with other companies, instead of branching out to others internationally.

This would lead to more cohesion within the region in the world of tech, thus improving the overall achievements done here.

On the other hand, Pylon Cofounder and CTO, Omar Radi, explained that the foundation needs to be strengthened.

He explained that education-wise, up-and-comers need to learn more and have a strong basis on which they can launch themselves to tackle everything AI.

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