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Google Debate Over ‘Sentient’ Bots Overshadows Deeper AI Issues

Researchers point out that artificial intelligence still has human shortcomings like bias

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Source: Getty Images

A Google software engineer was suspended after going public with his claims of encountering “sentient” artificial intelligence on the company’s servers — spurring a debate about how and whether AI can achieve consciousness. Researchers say it’s an unfortunate distraction from more pressing issues in the industry.

The engineer, Blake Lemoine, said he believed that Google's AI chatbot was capable of expressing human emotion, raising ethical issues. Google put him on leave for sharing confidential information and said his concerns had no basis in fact — a view widely held in the AI community. What’s more important, researchers say, is addressing issues like whether AI can engender real-world harm and prejudice, whether actual humans are exploited in the training of AI, and how the major technology companies act as gatekeepers of the development of the tech.