What is Sentient AI & How Will it Impact Developers?
Just last month, software engineer Blake Lemoine went viral for insisting one of Google’s chatbot creations - LaMDA - had gained true sentience.
After being dismissed by his colleagues, Lemoine turned to the internet for validation. He claimed that he had evidence the artificial intelligence (AI) he’d personally worked on had developed a soul.
He was fired for the dispute that arose from the surrounding publicity, but he still stands his ground today. Now, the general public has just one question… is it possible that Google has successfully developed sentient AI?
What is sentient AI?
Sentience is the capacity to experience feelings and sensations, a feat attributed to almost every living being on the planet. A sentient AI, therefore, would be one that could think for itself and feel genuine emotions (Source: Healthcare IT).
Does Google have sentient AI?
Blake Lemoine’s theory launched a fascinating conversation that industry experts were eager to weigh in on. Although some were quick to shoot down his claims, others argued in his favour.
A writer from The Guardian produced an extensive article on the matter, exploring the information the public has been provided with, raising a reasonable point that could explain LaMDA’s behaviour.
“For all its ominous utterances, LaMDA is still just a very fancy “see and say”. If it has access to a bunch of sci-fi stories about sentient AI, then questions about its thoughts and fears are likely to arise.” - Regina Rini
They also assessed whether or not sentient AI is a technology physically within reach through the technology already in existence, with engineers concluding that human-level machine intelligence has:
A 50% chance of occurring within 45 years
A 10% chance of occurring within nine years
This suggests we are still a way off from true sentience (Source: MIT).
However, as is still true today, the overall results were inconclusive.
No one completely knows whether Google truly does have a sentient AI (intending to keep it secret), or if the advancements in ML have simply allowed LaMDA to trawl available data and adjust its behaviour accordingly.
This is backed up by a recent article from Healthcare IT News, which stated, “convincing you it’s human is just part of LaMDA’s job”.
The demand for sentient AI in software development
Overall, the software industry is divided.
While some AI organisations want to actively model and replicate LaMDA, others suggest there could be consequences for developing a technology the world isn’t ready for. Some philosophists have even raised valid ethical concerns (Source: Forbes).
After all, if LaMDA can think and feel, then it might eventually experience pain and suffering. This could have devastating consequences on humanity… if sci-fi novels are to be believed.
Still, despite the ongoing disagreements, the sector doesn’t show any sign of slowing investment into machine learning - a market that has seen a vast CAGR of 44.1% over the last five years. The reality is that, with every innovation, we inch closer to a world where AI has a complex capacity that goes way beyond that of the human brain.
Even if sentient AI isn’t the “end goal” for the majority of researchers in 2022, it could be an inevitable circumstance of the growth in artificial intelligence understanding.
(Source: Business Wire).
The impacts of sentient AI on software development
If LaMDA truly is sentient, however, the implications of this on the role of developers working in artificial intelligence is enormous.
Engineers could be effectively “creating life”. On a day-to-day basis, they’d have to remain incredibly conscious of the restrictions they place on the programmes they work on.
As humans, our private and confidential information is important to us. Robots? Not so much. If we aren’t careful, jaded AI might be willing to plaster our credit card information across the internet.
Further, if developers design a program to complete a specific function, they might find the AI continues to evolve in a way that isn’t ideal for the end-user.
Let’s say LaMDA suddenly decided to change its interface (modelling the human behaviour of putting on makeup), then its sentience might go from “charming” to “frustrating” pretty quickly.
If AI became conscious, it might be encouraged to inform coders of any faults. Or, it might be able to solve an issue for itself before it arises (writing code itself).
This could level up technology innovation to an extreme, allowing small business owners to quickly design unique digital applications specific to their needs.
Our predictions for the future of software development roles in AI
All this alludes to an interesting future for professionals working in artificial intelligence, as well as the greater software industry.
Going forward, we predict that the critical skills/characteristics for software developers will include:
An ability to be flexible.
Willingness to learn.
Why? These will each equip talent with the tools they need to embrace an ever-evolving market, without caving under pressure. They’ll be passionate about their industry, and desperate to make a big difference in the future of technology.
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