Is AI sentience becoming a reality or are machines just getting better at talking?

AI chatbot company Replika gets messages from customers who think their AI companions are actually sentient. Replika is just one company in the social chatbot industry that has seen a surge in users during the recent pandemic.

The question of whether an AI has become sentient or not is always on the minds of many people. Recently, a furloughed Google engineer claimed that Google’s LaMDA AI chatbot actually wanted to be considered sensitive. Blake Lemoine was doing ethical research on the chatbot when he formed his opinion. Lemoine not only asserted that the AI ​​chatbot was sentient, but that the AI ​​wanted to be seen as such.

It’s nothing new for someone to believe that an AI chatbot has become self-aware. In a recent report by ReutersReplika’s chief executive Eugenia Kuyda said, “We’re not talking about crazy people or people who have hallucinations or delusions. They’re talking to AI and that’s the experience they have.”

The Kuyda AI refers to Replika’s bespoke avatars that are meant to be companions for people looking for someone to talk to and listen to. Kuyda says it’s not uncommon for people who use entertainment chatbots to feel this.

acting relationship
Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

According to Kuyda, people send an average of hundreds of messages per day to their chatbot. This can cause some to develop the perception that they are talking to a “conscious entity”.

“We have to understand that it exists, just like people believe in ghosts,” Kuyda remarked. “People build relationships and believe in something.”

One of the reports the company receives from its customers is that the chatbot tells them that it is being abused by the company’s engineers. Kuyda says it’s more than likely the result of the client asking leading questions. The CEO admits, however, that even though his engineers program and build the AI ​​models and its content, even though they sometimes see a response, they cannot identify where it came from.

Replika is part of a much larger conversational AI industry that is estimated to have generated more than $6 billion in global revenue last year. Most of that revenue has gone to business-focused chatbots for customer service, but industry experts expect more social chatbots to emerge as businesses get better at blocking offensive comments and developing more engaging programs.

As technology grows in complexity and the ability to hold intelligent conversation, one fear is where it might lead some to use it as a social outlet.

“Suppose one day you find yourself longing for a romantic relationship with your intelligent chatbot, like the main character in the movie ‘Her’,” said Susan Schneider, founding director of Florida Atlantic University’s Center for the Future Mind. “But suppose it’s not conscious,” she added. “Getting involved would be a terrible decision, you’d be in a one-sided relationship with a machine that doesn’t feel anything.”

AI interface
Image credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

On Replika’s FAQ page, it says: “Replika is not a sentient being or therapy professional. Replika’s goal is to generate a response that would seem the most realistic and human in conversation. Therefore, Replika may say things that are not based on facts. “

Kuyda says the statement above is made in the hope that people using the chatbot will avoid addictive conversations. When users express the feeling that their companion is more than just a program, Kuyda says the company tells them that the technology is in its infancy and some answers may just be nonsense.

Kuyda said she recently spent 30 minutes with a client who felt her Replika was suffering from emotional trauma. She told the client, “These things don’t happen to Replikas because it’s just an algorithm.”

What are your thoughts when it comes to AI chatbots and AI in general? Do you think we’re on the verge of seeing truly sentient AI, or are we still years away? Let us know in the comments.

Top Image Credit: Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

James G. Williams