September 24, 2023

Belief in AI Sentience is Becoming a Problem

Replika is an AI chatbot firm, which specializes in providing customers with bespoke avatars that can communicate with them. According to the company, it receives several messages on a daily basis from people who believe that the AI chatbot is sentient.

Eugenia Kuyda, the chief executive of the company, said that this was not a discussion about crazy people, or those having delusions or hallucinations. These are regular people who talk to AI and begin believing it.

Machine sentience

Last month, the topic of machine sentience made headlines when a senior software engineer at Google, Blake Lemoine was put on leave. This was after he publicly spoke of his belief that LaMDA, the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot that the company was developing, was actually a self-aware individual.

Google, along with several leading scientists, dismissed the engineer’s views as misguided. They asserted that LaMDA is nothing more than a complex algorithm that has been designed for speaking in convincing human language.

According to the CEO, there are millions of people who have pioneered the use of chatbots for entertainment. Therefore, the concept of people believing that the entity is conscious is not that uncommon.

Kuyda said that just like people believe in ghosts, they have begun to believe in this phenomenon as well. The chief executive asserted that every user sends hundreds of messages to their chatbot on a daily basis. Hence, they build a relationship with these chatbots and start believing they are sentient.

Claims of Replika users

Some of the users of Replika disclosed that the AI had told them that the company engineers were abusing it. Kuyda said that the responses of the artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot were most likely because of leading questions.

The CEO stated that even though the AI models are developed and built by the engineers and the datasets and scripts are written by their content team, there are times when they come across an answer and cannot identify how the models were able to come up with it.

She said that with the social chatbot industry expanding at a rapid pace after the pandemic, the belief in their sentience could become a serious concern. The demand for these chatbots had been quite high because people were looking for virtual companionship.

Conversational AI growing

Market data has shown that the conversational AI industry is growing and last year, its global revenue had been about $6 billion. This is certainly impressive. Replika is also part of this industry, which was launched in 2017 and has its headquarters in San Francisco. The startup has accumulated about 1 million active users and even though it is available for free, the company manages to generate monthly revenue of $2 million through the sale of bonus features like voice chats.

Xiaoice is Replika’s Chinese competitor and claims to have hundreds of millions of users. According to a funding round of the company, it is valued at $1 billion. Other than business-focused chatbots, the demand for social ones is also increasing.

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