Is Google’s New Chatbot ‘Sentient’? Not So Fast, Says Oxford Mathematician
Google engineer Blake Lemoine recently made headlines following a Washington Post profile where he claimed that a Google chatbot currently under development called “LaMDA” (Language Model for Dialogue Applications) had become so advanced that it became “sentient” (or had developed a consciousness). But an artificial intelligence (AI) expert and Oxford professor of mathematics is unconvinced.
“I’m very skeptical about the claim for several reasons,” said Dr. John Lennox on “Washington Watch.” “The first is no one knows what consciousness is, but we do know enough about the way in which the brain functions to realize that consciousness cannot be reduced to machinery. No machine computer can reproduce anything like consciousness.”
Lennox, a professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford and author of “2084: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity,” pointed to the recent work of psychiatrist Edmund Gilchrist and other experts who say that machines are not capable of comprehending meaning.
“This has been shown in a … landmark book published just a few months ago by Dr. Edmund Gilchrist called ‘The Matter with Things.’ And he points out that we’ve concentrated a lot on the left side of the brain and reduced things to machinery and so on, when we’ve neglected the right side of the brain which understands meaning and is associated closely with that aspect [which] cannot be reduced to machinery. So I think the science actually goes to show that the idea that this actual LaMDA situation was sentient is wrong and that the engineers who say it’s wrong and many other experts are perfectly right — we’re nowhere near it.”
Even though “sentient” artificial intelligence is currently beyond reach, many in the West are latching on to the idea of “transhumanism,” especially as belief in God wanes. According to Lennox, transhumanism is currently forming two branches. The first attempts to use technology to “enhance existing human beings … into superhumans” in order to “conquer the problem of physical death” and to “enhance human happiness by genetic engineering [and] implants.” The second branch seeks to “create a superintelligence based on silicon” so “that one day we’ll upload the contents of our brains into that and have eternal superintelligence.”
As the meaning of being human is increasingly blurred through the pursuit of AI and transhumanism, we are walking on dangerous ground, Lennox explained.
“I believe [in] the transcendent dimension [of being human], that human beings are dignified with infinite value because they’re made in the image of God,” said Lennox. “… [B]ut [transhumanism is about] fundamentally changing the specification of human beings by modifying their germline. I think that’s an exceedingly dangerous thing. And C.S. Lewis long ago saw that what would be produced by that kind of technology would not be a free being but would be an artifact that is held in thrall to the scientists that originally designed its program.”
Lennox went on to observe that AI and transhumanism’s longing for transcendence is a day late and a dollar short.
“[Transhumanism] is essentially a parody of what Christianity genuinely offers and for which there’s much more evidence. When I meet transhumanists and they offer me their program, I often say to them, ‘You’re too late.’ And they’re puzzled. They say, ‘What do you mean?’ Well, 20 centuries ago, God raised Jesus Christ from the dead and thereby conquered the problem of physical death. So that’s already been done … Christ has promised those who trust Him that He will return and raise them from the dead just as He was raised from the dead. And that is, if I might say so, the most wonderful upload conceivable.”
A renewed focus on humanity’s divine reflection could very well be essential in helping bring clarity to the West’s moral confusion, Lennox noted.
“One of your most distinguished AEI researchers in the U.S., Professor Rosalind Picard of MIT, gave a magnificent lecture in Oxford a couple of weeks ago where she [emphasized that what] needs to be brought back into focus is the concept of imago dei, that human beings are the image of God,” Lennox told Tony Perkins. “I agree with her wholeheartedly … Jordan Peterson not long ago gave a lecture on Genesis, and when he came across the statement, ‘Let us make human beings in our own image,’ he stopped and he said, ‘That is the foundation of all value, and we ignore it to our peril.’ I think he’s exactly right. And once we let go of that, then we end up at a relativist morass where there’s huge danger of truth and morality being replaced simply by power.”
Perkins concurred. “All the more reason Christians need to know what they believe, why they believe it, and make those beliefs known,” he underscored. “We live in an age where those boundaries for society, the moral law, the natural law written on the hearts of men is absolutely essential. And we must teach, remind, and uphold those truths.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.