Employee Says The Computer Program Has A Soul Employer Says You’re Suspended
Recently, Google suspended a software engineer, who claimed that its artificial intelligence program is sentient. The engineer, Blake Lemoine, believes that the program has consciousness and a soul and is about 7 or 8 years old. He insists that Google must seek the program’s permission before running experiments on it and changes in the program can threaten its life. Mr. Lemoine writes that his “opinions about [the artificial intelligence program’s] personhood and sentience are based on my religious beliefs.” He accuses Google of discriminating against him because of those religious beliefs.
Google insists that although the program can conduct limited conversational exchanges, including some exchanges over philosophical issues, it does not have consciousness. Google notes that hundreds of other researchers and engineers have conversed with the artificial intelligence program without concluding that the program has a soul or even that it is sentient. Most artificial intelligence experts opine that no current artificial intelligence program is close to human like self-knowledge.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, which is defined very broadly. It includes “all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief.” An employer is obligated to accommodate an employee’s religious observances and practices unless it can demonstrate that it is “unable to reasonably accommodate” them “without undue hardship.”
Thus to prevail in his religious discrimination claim Mr. Lemoine must prove that his claim that the artificial intelligence program is sentient and has a soul is based on his religious beliefs. If this dispute is over a scientific or technical issue as to how advanced the program’s ability is or whether it has the capacity to think independently, Title VII simply does not apply because it only protects religious beliefs, not philosophical opinions or scientific conclusions.
But even if Mr. Lemoine is able to prove that his beliefs regarding the artificial intelligence program are grounded in religion, he will not prevail if Google can demonstrate that accommodating his religious beliefs would create an undue hardship.