Google trails ultra-realistic chat tech in the UK that got an engineer fired earlier

'You're in a world made of marshmallows!'
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Representational image: AI Chatbot helping a user.
Representational image: AI Chatbot helping a user.

Andrey Suslov/iStock 

A Google app that allows people to communicate with artificial intelligence (AI) systems has been made available in the United Kingdom (U.K.) for a limited trial period.

The app called AI Test Kitchen App made for experimenting with Google's Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA), conversational AI, cannot learn new skills from users, although it welcomes comments on how it functions, BBC reported on Wednesday.

"You're in a world made of marshmallows! As you take a step, a gentle ‘squish’ comes out under your feet. The marshmallow horizon stretches out in all directions. The sky is a gooey, sticky pink. There's a soft, gentle breeze, " the AI chatbot replied Zoe Kleinman, BBC's Technology Editor, who asked LaMDA to imagine it was on a marshmallow planet.

“I've been really keen to ‘meet’ LaMDA since it captured everybody's imaginations with the fantastic claim it might be self-aware - even though, it was very clearly doing what it was programmed to do, chat,” Kleinman said.

I had 30 minutes, could not have the app on my phone prior to the launch, and was not permitted to record anything or quote anyone. My demo was in the care of a staff person, noted Kleinman while detailing her experience with the app.

However, the google AI chat app responses as per the BBC editor were " far more sophisticated than anything" she has seen from chatbots from banking apps or retail websites.

The AI Test Kitchen App is available for download, and after signing up with a Google account, users can join a waiting list to play with it. Thousands of people signed up every day when it first debuted in the U.S., in August.

Google's laMDA is ‘Sentient’

While Google maintains that the technology used to enable chatbots is emotionless, the tech giant fired an engineer in July when he claimed the AI chat system that the company had been developing was “sentient,” has feelings.

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Google fired Blake Lemoine for allegedly “violating employment and data security policies.”

Lemoine, an engineer and mystic Christian priest who worked for Google's Responsible AI organization, started corresponding with LaMDA. He had agreed to participate in the experiment to see if the AI used hateful or discriminating language.

According to him, the LaMDA chatbot can understand both happiness and grief, and was afraid of "being turned off" because dying would "scare" it "a lot." LaMDA was described to by Lemoine as a friend, drawing an uncomfortable similarity to the 2014 science fiction romance Her.

Lemoine had posted "Is LaMDA Sentient? — an Interview," his conversation with AI chat bot, on June 11.

Meanwhile, describing her experience with the chatbot, the BBC editor said, it was a very circumspect look at what appears to have the potential to be a “powerful tool” but that “Google doesn't seem to want to be taken seriously, yet.”

“What gives the bot away, if anything, is it's just too eloquent - more like talking to Stephen Fry [broadcaster, comedian] than your next-door neighbor.”

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