Recently, Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer was so intrigued by an AI-driven chatbot, he got a bit carried away and lost his job. He was of the opinion that Google’s chatbot is sentient and that it felt as if he was talking to a real person. While Google wasted no time to dismiss Lemoine’s claim, this story has sparked a new wave of controversy in the tech world. It appears to many that Lemoine was a whistleblower acting in the interest of a computer application that requires protection from the people developing it.
So, was there any truth to Lemoine’s story? Are chatbots driven by artificial intelligence sentient? A lot of technologists believe that although AI models are not there yet, it won’t come as a shock to see AI models achieve consciousness in the future. This is why many tech experts have taken him seriously instead of refuting Lemoine’s claim. This feels like a story that is straight out of a fictional novel or a movie we just can’t get enough of.
In this article, we will try to understand why more and more people across the world have started to believe that they are interacting with something sentient while interacting with AI chatbots. Without wasting any of your time, let’s dig in.
Why do people think chatbots are sentient?
As mentioned before, numerous people from around the world believe that they are talking to something sentient when they talk to AI chatbots. Today, there are many tech companies that enable users to create their very own virtual character or companion.
For instance, Replika. It is a tech company that allows users to personalize their virtual avatars and also add specific personality traits. Around million people have downloaded this application and interact with these chatbots regularly. What is frightening to see is that many people have started to believe that their digital buddies are real-life characters that are sentient.
Eugenia Kuyda, Chief Executive of Replika said that the number of people who believe that they are dealing with a “conscious entity” is increasing. As the usage of entertainment chabots grows, this trend is likely to gain further momentum in the upcoming years. Kuyda also said that just like how some believe in ghosts, we have millions of people who believe that chatbots are sentient.
Kuyda also said that she is a bit worried about the growing belief in AI sentience as the social chatbot continues to grow at a rapid pace. The advent of the global pandemic was one of the key factors that led to a significant rise in the number of people looking for virtual companionship. In fact, a report published by Global Market Insights suggests that the global chatbot market will be worth more than $1.3 billion by the end of 2024 .
While brands from across the world continue to deploy chatbots to provide better and streamlined customer service, social chatbots will also become an integral part of society in the upcoming decade.
Are chatbots sentient?
Of course, there are some looming concerns around the use of chatbots. That being said, a majority of people are perfectly okay with using chatbots services without any hesitation. Around 63% of customers are open to communicating with their favorite brands and businesses via a chatbot .
While the commercial use of chatbots has not attracted a great deal of controversy, the social use of chatbots has raised several eyebrows in recent years. Experts from the tech world say that although these systems can be easily mistaken for sentient artificial intelligence chatbots, the reality is far from this claim. At the very best, these chatbots can trick humans into believing that they have some degree of intelligence. Thus, humans can be easily influenced and swayed by technology.
So the question remains, is Google’s AI chatbot LaMDA sentient? Are humans at risk of losing control over the planet? Are scientists digging their own graves? These questions are charged with feelings and emotions and drive the hype around artificial intelligence sentience.
Professor Toby Walsh, University of New South Wales says that Lemoine may have gone a bit overboard and that LaMDA is as sentient as a traffic light. He says that we have not been able to define what sentience means scientifically. He further says that it is typically equated to consciousness and it would be a good idea to distinguish the two.
Professor Walsh says that sentience has got everything to do with feeling and experiencing emotions. On the other hand, consciousness means being aware of others and your own thoughts. Thus, a large majority of the scientific community has dismissed Lemoine’s claims since computers are not alive. Walsh also says that we should deem anything that responds to stimuli as sentient but hold computers to higher standards. Time will tell whether or not sentient artificial intelligence will become a reality. However, tech intelligence applied to real-life textual data has crashed into a distinctive quirk of human nature.
Lemoine’s story has successfully managed to do one thing – question the development of chatbots. It has given us something to ponder over and dissect the pros and cons of this new-age technology. As of now, we can shrug aside Lemoine’s claims but cannot dismiss them completely.
Although machines are very important, the rise of machines appears to be a distant nightmare at the moment. However, many people worldwide have expressed similar concerns pertaining to AI-driven chatbots. As mentioned earlier, are humans really being tricked into believing that chatbots are sentient? Regardless of what the truth is, moving forward, we are more likely to believe that AI chabots are indeed sentient beings thanks to advancements in technology.
This debate on whether computers can feel things is not going to end any time soon. Meanwhile, you can continue browsing ToolsMetric for similar stories. We would love to hear from you and understand your thoughts on this topic.
 Jospeh. R (2019) “2019 Chatbot Statistics – All The Data You Need” Intellectyx [online] Available from: 2019 Chatbot Statistics – All The Data You Need
 Eaton-Cardone. M (2017) “The good, the bad, and the ugly of chatbots” The Machine [online] Available from: The good, the bad, and the ugly of chatbots