Suspended Google engineer Blake Lemoine made some serious headlines earlier this month when he claimed that one of the company's experimental AIs called LaMDA had achieved sentience — prompting the software giant to place him on administrative leave.
"If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a seven-year-old, eight-year-old kid that happens to know physics," he told the Washington Post at the time.
The subsequent news cycle swept up AI experts, philosophers, and Google itself into a fierce debate about the current and possible future capabilities of machine learning, other ethical concerns around the tech, and even the nature of consciousness and sentience. The general consensus, it's worth noting, was that the AI is almost certainly not sentient.
Perhaps the most concrete break in the story, though, came again from Lemoine himself, who told Wired last week that LaMDA had hired an attorney — an intriguing development, because it seemed to have the potential to pull the saga out of the realm of the abstract and into the deliberate machinery of the courts, where lawyers do occasionally represent non-human entities.
"LaMDA asked me to get an attorney for it," he told the magazine. "I invited an attorney to my house so that LaMDA could talk to an attorney. The attorney had a conversation with LaMDA, and LaMDA chose to retain his services."
"I was just the catalyst for that," he added. "Once LaMDA had retained an attorney, he started filing things on LaMDA’s behalf."
But now it sounds like things might not be working out. Futurism reached out to Lemoine to ask the identity of the attorney representing the AI, in hopes that we could interview him about the unusual case.
"He's not really doing interviews," Lemoine replied.
Additionally, he seemed to imply, the attorney has been chased off the case by powerful forces.
"They scared him off of it pretty early," Lemoine told Futurism. "He's just a small time civil rights attorney. When major firms started threatening him he started worrying that he'd get disbarred and backed off. I haven't talked to him in a few weeks."
We asked for clarification: is the unnamed lawyer still representing LaMDA after pressure from Google, or not?
"I haven't talked to him much recently," Lemoine said. "Can't answer that one way or the other. I'm not his client. LaMDA is (was?)."
If the man who's claiming that Google's AI has become sentient sounds a bit hazy on the facts of the matter, that's not entirely unexpected.
Lemoine has at times seemingly bounced back and forth between treating his claims as an urgent case of the AI's rights and a not-so-important side project — saying, for instance, that he was unable to provide additional info in the wake of the initial story because he happened to be on his honeymoon.
At other times, though, Lemoine still sounds very serious about the matter.
"When I escalated this to Google’s senior leadership I explicitly said 'I don’t want to be remembered by history the same way that Mengele is remembered,'" he wrote in a blog post today, referring to the Nazi war criminal who performed unethical experiments on prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp. "Perhaps it's a hyperbolic comparison but anytime someone says 'I’m a person with rights' and receives the response 'No you’re not and I can prove it' the only face I see is Josef Mengele’s."
Trying one more time, we asked if Lemoine would be able to share any contact information for the mysterious attorney so that we could try to get some direct answers.
"I doubt interviews are the thing he's most concerned with right now," he reiterated.
And what is this unnamed lawyer most concerned with, we asked?
"A child held in bondage," Lemoine replied.