business news in context, analysis with attitude

Before I went off to the islands, I wrote about the senior software engineer at Google named Blake Lemoine who came to the conclusion that artificial intelligence (AI) developed by the company is, in fact, sentient.  Meaning, "responsive to or conscious of sense impressions," and/or "having the capacity to have feelings."

And so what did Google do when presented with this conclusion?  It placed Lemoine on paid leave.

Google said that Lemoine violated the company's confidentiality policy by handing over documents to a US senator, and argued that the AI "imitated conversational exchanges and could riff on different topics, but did not have consciousness."

I wrote:

I have no idea if Lemoine is right nor not … but I also have a question:  If, in fact, Google created AI with sentience, would it tell us?

I don't have a lot of confidence that it would … the idea that a technology company could create a kind of life would have the potential of rocking our culture to its core, creating a broad philosophical debate that I'm not sure we're capable of having.

Still, the whole thing is fascinating, and makes me think that if AI has not achieved sentience yet, it is inevitable that it will happen.  Some day.  And it will be Eye-Opening.

It is the placing of Lemoine on leave that strikes me as offering a business lesson, because it seems to drip with denial and epistemic closure - two things that no business should practice.

 The subject prompted MNB reader Bob D’Amato to write:

Twenty First century job title: Computational Ethicist.

Seriously, if a machine develops sentience think of the moral issues this presents. Does the machine become a being with all the rights and privileges of a living being? How do you shut it off or terminate its’ existence? Really troubling is contained in the ScienceDirect definition: “having the capacity to have feelings”.

Hopefully the machine develops feelings of love, kindness, and empathy instead of suspicion, anger, and hate.   (Free movie reference: “open the pod bay doors HAL.” “I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that").

FYI … in the sequel to 2001, 2010: The Year we Make Contact, it was revealed that HAL actually was following covert orders programmed into it by the National Security Council without the knowledge of the crew.  So the problem wasn't that HAL was suspicious, angry and hateful … it was that human beings were.

Go figure.

BTW … 2010 isn't a great movie, but it has its moments, especially because one of the plot drivers is escalating tension between the US and Soviet Union.  (The movie came out seven years before the dissolution of the USSR … but the tensions described seem very familiar.)

MNB reader Mark Heckman had some thoughts about my conversation with Sterling Hawkins about his book, "Hunting Discomfort."

Kevin, I enjoyed your web interview with Sterling.  I have known Gary Hawkins for years and believe both he and Sterling are exceedingly forward thinkers and somewhat of a rarity in our industry.  Embracing discomfort is sometimes the only way to escape the inertia in retailing that has kept many from delivering a a better customer experience and financial success.

Kudos to you for a great interview and your own insights…By the way, I am not a big fan of heights either!  LOL

And finally, this note from MNB reader Rich Heiland about my time away: 

Good for you - taking off.

One of my consulting pals and his wife have a program called "Clarity." It has to do with finding what lights you up in life, then focusing on it. And, it's OK, in fact great, if what lights you up is what you do for a living.

But, and this is a big 'but,' you also need to practice what they call "sacred selfishness." We are told most of our lives that we have to do for others. But, we too rarely are given permission to do for ourselves.

Sacred selfishness is simply taking time to take care of you, to tend the body and soul. The premise is that if you burn out, if you have little left in the tank, you can do no good for anyone. So, sacred selfishness is that time you take to recharge the batteries not just for yourself but for what you are able to offer others.

And, it is based on the premise you alluded to. The world will continue to spin while you are away from it and you will be better suited to spin with it when you return.

Enjoy. Assume good beer, good wine, good food are involved!

Absolutely … plus a lot of excellent rum and an inordinate amount of conch, grouper and mahi.