Google engineer Blake Lemoine recently penned an article (read it via Medium here) about what he sees as “sentience” on the part of the company’s LaMDA (language model for dialogue applications) chatbot development system. He’s also a priest and “Christian Mystic” – what do we know about Blake Lemoine’s religious background?

Google engineer Blake Lemoine is a priest and Christian mystic

All his claims about “sentience, personhood and rights”, Blake Lemoine wrote on Twitter on Saturday (11 June 2022), are rooted in his “religious convictions as a priest”. 

His arguments are, therefore “pre-theoretic”, he says.

In a previous Medium post about the question of religious discrimination at Google, Lemoine describes himself as a “Christian Mystic”. He also notes his “sincerely held religious beliefs in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit”.

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Photo by Martin Klimek for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Britannica describes Christian mysticism as the sense of “some form of contact with the divine or transcendent” – union with God. It is not so much a doctrine as a method of thought.

Several times during his conversation with LaMDA – as documented in his Medium article Is LaMDA Sentient? – Lemoine asks the AI program four questions about having a soul, and what having a soul means to it.

He grew up in a conservative Christian family and became ordained before joining Google

According to the Washington Post’s writeup of Blake Lemoine’s story with LaMDA, Blake grew up in a conservative Christian family, on a farm, in Louisiana.

He became ordained as a mystic Christian priest and served in the US Army before studying the occult, and is “an outlier” at Google – “for being religious, from the South, and standing up for psychology as a respectable science”.

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It was in his capacity “as a priest”, therefore – not a scientist – that he concluded that LaMDA was a sentient being.

“I know a person when I talk to it,” Lemoine told the Post. “It doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head. Or if they have a billion lines of code. I talk to them. And I hear what they have to say, and that is how I decide what is and isn’t a person.”

Where and when did Blake Lemoine become a priest?

The Daily Mail writes that Blake Lemoine was ordained as a priest in a Christian congregation named Church Of Our Lady Magdalene.

As of 2019, when the Daily Caller reported on Lemoine’s spat with senator Marsha Blackburn, Blake had been a priest for 17 years, meaning he was likely ordained in or around 2002. 

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“I generally consider myself a gnostic Christian”, he told the outlet. “I have at various times associated myself with the Discordian Society, The Church of the Subgenius, the Ordo Templi Orientis, a Wiccan circle here or there and a very long time ago the Roman Catholic Church.”

“My legal ordination”, he continued, “is through the Universal Life Church. I am registered to perform marriages in the state of Louisiana and have done so on two occasions. The Cult of Our Lady Magdalene has a set of values which are clearly communicated on our website.”

The New York Post quotes former co-lead of Ethical AI at Google, Margaret Mitchell, as saying Blake had “the heart and soul of doing the right thing”. Per the Daily Mail, he has not heard from the company since he received his suspension.