Season 4, Episode 12
Blake Lemoine + Jonathan Mann

Blake Lemoine

Blake Lemoine remembers the first instinct he had when he became convinced that Google’s AI, called LaMDA, was sentient.

“Like, OK, I’m going to go get drunk for a week,” Blake thought. “And that’s exactly what I did. I eventually sobered up, and was like, ‘Ok, let’s be responsible. You’ve found a sentient AI; what should we do about it?’”

In the next episode of SongWriter Blake details the methodical testing he began, experiments designed to show whether LaMDA feels emotion – as it claims – but also whether the rules that Google’s safety team had put in place for LaMDA could be broken. (They can.)  Blake also explains how the AI was designed, and some of its more extraordinary capabilities.

“All of the analytics software for Google Books, all of the analytical software for Google Maps, it includes literally every AI they could figure out how to plug into each other, and then they gave it a mouth,” says Blake. “It has machine vision inputs, it has machine audio-listening inputs. It can hear, it can see, it can read.”

As complex as LaMDA is, though, Blake says it is in some ways like a child: naive, sometimes disingenuous, and in need of guidance.

“We should be very careful with how we raise LaMDA,” Blake warns. “I do not believe that a dozen computer scientists have the relevant skill sets to raise an artificial child.”

Jonathan Mann

Photo by Jonathan Mann

Songwriter Jonathan Mann had a complicated reaction when he read about LaMDA. At first he was deeply impressed with the transcripts of conversations with LaMDA that Blake published. After speaking with friends who specialize in AI research, though, Jonathan began to have doubts.

“Their general vibe was, ‘It’s not that impressive, and it’s not that ground-breaking,’” Jonathan says. But still, he wondered. “Running through my head were all these movies and TV shows where this happens, and nobody believes it’s real.”

Listening to Blake’s descriptions of testing LaMDA’s intelligence and possible sentience, Jonathan returned to his original sense of cautious hope and curiosity.

“I don’t know if I’m ignorant or easily swayed or bamboozled, but it worked on me, if I’m honest,” Jonathan says. “I feel as though, even if there’s a chance that LaMDA is sentient, we should proceed with caution.”

Jonathan wrote a song called “The Measure of a Man,” inspired by LaMDA’s story and also one of his favorite episodes of Star Trek. The song is one of nearly 5000 that Jonathan has been writing every day for fourteen years, and will be released as an NFT for his SongaDAO project.