Experts from The Alan Turing Institute have been responding to reports this week that a Google engineer has been put on leave after saying an AI chatbot has become sentient.

The news sparked debate about whether machines could think and feel for themselves, and the Turing’s Professor Mike Wooldridge and Dr Adrian Weller offered their knowledge to a range of online and broadcast media outlets on the subject matter.

In a piece for inews Professor Wooldridge, who was extensively quoted, commented on the limitations of the company’s LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) saying that “these machines are doing impressive things but actually you don’t have to dig very hard to find out their limits.”

Additionally, in an interview for ITV News at Ten, Professor Wooldridge said, “what’s it’s doing is just trying to generate, based on vast quantity of text that it’s seen, things that sound plausible”.

Mike also featured in interviews for Times Radio and the Daily Mail.

The Turing recently announced an expansion of its AI work. This new overarching work strand will be headed up by Professor Wooldridge, who has been a member of the Turing community since 2018. As Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford, he was Head of Department from 2014-21. He currently holds a UKRI Turing AI World-Leading Researcher Fellowship.

In an article for the Daily Mail, Dr Weller, a recent recipient of an MBE for his ‘outstanding services to digital innovation’, almost everyone would agree that it is not sentient, it can produce text output which might superficially suggest it might be – until you take time to dig further with more probing questions.”

Adrian also featured in interviews with BBC World at One on BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Kent and the New Scientist.

Dr Adrian Weller

Programme Director for Artificial Intelligence, Turing Fellow and Turing AI Acceleration Fellow