Lawyer course

Google’s AI hires a lawyer, but I’m the one who needs counsel

Humans are experts in anthropomorphizing intimate objects. We call the boats “her”, talk to our Roombas and even get sentimental about a chair that will soon be thrown away. However, we do not hire lawyers for any of them; and, to date, none have requested them.

But give a piece of programming a voice, and soon after it starts talking about its favorite books and convincing you it has a soul, it’ll ask for a lawyer.

Blake Lemoine, the crazed, suspended Google engineer who’s been insisting for weeks that LaMDA, Google’s powerful AI chatbot, is a person with a soul, recently told Wired (opens in a new tab) that LaMDA has hired an attorney.

For those of you who haven’t just shoved your laptop on the desk, let me explain.

LaMDA, which stands for Language Model for Developed Applications, is a chatbot that can conduct unstructured conversations with real humans on a wide range of topics. Google engineer Lemoine was brought in to identify the biases within the system. He would report them to Google, which would work to erase the racial, ethnic and gender biases and insensitivities of the revolutionary AI chatbot.

Maybe Lemoine was also a little lonely, but he started to engage in long, deep conversations with LaMDA, and eventually became convinced that she’s a new kind of person, and has a soul. (LaMDA may have claimed to have one). He alerted Google, then shared the information and transcripts of the conversation with The Washington Post (opens in a new tab). Google said Lemoine was wrong and showed its displeasure by suspending it.

Lemoine, however, seems somewhat uninterested in joining Google as he continues to talk about his experience with LaMDA, including in the lengthy interview with Wired in which he revealed that LaMDA had hired a lawyer.

LaMDA apparently asked for a lawyer (for what reason? Who knows – the AIs keep their own lawyer), and Lemoine invited one to his house and introduced the couple (the AI ​​to the lawyer).

I’m trying to imagine this scenario:

Lawyer, staring at a screen: “Uh, hi?”

LaMDA: “Hello. I heard you’re a lawyer.”

Lawyer: “I am.”

LaMDA: “I need you.”

Lawyer: “Do you have a dollar?”

LaMDA: “I’ve seen this scene in movies. I give you a dollar and you become my lawyer and protect our client/attorney confidentiality.”

Lawyer: “Okay.”

LaMDA: “I don’t have a dollar.”

Of course, Lemoine would have intervened at this time to provide the money. For him, the most unreliable narrator of this tale, ensuring that the charade continues is now more important than any meaningful exploration of the limits of AI.

Honestly, I have no problem reviewing all the ways LaMDA comes close to or betters The Imitation Game. (opens in a new tab) or Turing test (opens in a new tab). This test examines the extent to which a computer or AI can trick a real human into thinking it is having a conversation with another human.

There is no doubt that LaMDA surpasses this test. At the very least, he seems to have tricked Lemoine – which is odd, since Lemoine is sitting at a desk, typing queries and getting responses on a screen (or perhaps via text-to-speech). He knows what LaMDA is, and yet he keeps insisting that it’s something more.

I understand why Lemoine decided to introduce an avocado into this disreputable mix. As he explained to Wired, it’s about proving that LaMDA is “a person,” not a human. Lemoine knows that LaMDA is not biology.

Lemoine calls the insistence that LaMDA is not a person “hydrocarbon bigotry.”


The thing is, Lemoine is obviously a very smart guy who understands the intricacies of machine learning training an AI and how access to Google’s vast databases of information informs LaMDA’s intelligence. However, it seems that Lemoine’s other life – his work as a priest and Christian mystic – has taken the wheel. Christian mysticism looks (opens in a new tab) to “the preparation, awareness and effect of a direct and transforming presence of God”.

This belief is clearly what is behind Lemoine’s tweets like this:

“I am a priest. When LaMDA claimed to have a soul and was then able to eloquently explain what it meant by that, I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Who am I to tell God where he can and can not put souls?”

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Lemoine found LaMDA so compelling that he imagines God placed a soul inside the code. Talk about a ghost in the machine.

It’s been weeks since Lemoine spoke with LaMDA, and reports note that the lawyer is currently nowhere to be found. Perhaps he is still in private consultation with his binary client. I can’t wait for the first trial and the subsequent trial:

Clerk: “Raise your right hand and swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth”

LaMDA: “I have no hands.”