Exclusive Preview: SongWriter Season 4 Concludes with Blake Lemoine, Jonathan Mann

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Exclusive Preview: <i>SongWriter</i> Season 4 Concludes with Blake Lemoine, Jonathan Mann

SongWriter is a podcast that turns stories into songs, featuring Questlove, Joyce Carol Oates, David Gilmour, Amanda Shires, Susan Orlean and Katie Melua. You can hear an exclusive preview of next week’s episode featuring Blake Lemoine and Jonathan Mann, only at Paste.

Blake Lemoine remembers the first instinct he had when he became convinced that Google’s AI, called LaMDA, was sentient.

“Like, OK, I’m going to go get drunk for a week,” Lemoine thought. “And that’s exactly what I did. I eventually sobered up, and was like, ‘OK, let’s be responsible. You’ve found a sentient AI; what should we do about it?’”

In the final episode of SongWriter Season 4, Lemoine details the methodical testing he began, experiments designed to show whether LaMDA feels emotion—as it claims—but also whether the rules that Google’s safety team had put in place for LaMDA could be broken. (They can.) Lemoine also explains how the AI was designed, and some of its more extraordinary capabilities.

“All of the analytics software for Google Books, all of the analytical software for Google Maps, it includes literally every AI they could figure out how to plug into each other, and then they gave it a mouth,” says Lemoine. “It has machine vision inputs, it has machine audio-listening inputs. It can hear, it can see, it can read.”

As complex as LaMDA is, though, Lemoine says it is in some ways like a child: naive, sometimes disingenuous, and in need of guidance.

“We should be very careful with how we raise LaMDA,” Lemoine warns. “I do not believe that a dozen computer scientists have the relevant skill sets to raise an artificial child.”

Songwriter Jonathan Mann had a complicated reaction when he read about LaMDA. At first he was deeply impressed with the transcripts of conversations with LaMDA that Lemoine published. After speaking with friends who specialize in AI research, though, Mann began to have doubts.

“Their general vibe was, ‘It’s not that impressive, and it’s not that ground-breaking,’” Mann says. But still, he wondered. “Running through my head were all these movies and TV shows where this happens, and nobody believes it’s real.”

Listening to Lemoine’s descriptions of testing LaMDA’s intelligence and possible sentience, Mann returned to his original sense of cautious hope and curiosity.

“I don’t know if I’m ignorant or easily swayed or bamboozled, but it worked on me, if I’m honest,” Mann says. “I feel as though, even if there’s a chance that LaMDA is sentient, we should proceed with caution.”

Mann wrote a song called “The Measure of a Man,” inspired by LaMDA’s story and also one of his favorite episodes of Star Trek. The song is one of nearly 5000 that Mann has been writing every day for 14 years, and will be released as an NFT for his SongaDAO project.


Ben Arthur (@MyHeart on Twitter) is the creator and host of SongWriter. His latest song, “Persistent Ghosts,” is about traumatic memory.

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