Morning Brew - ☕️ AI with a soul

Asking the deep questions on a Monday morning...
June 13, 2022 View Online | Sign Up | Shop

Morning Brew


Good morning. Brief shoutout to all the planes taking off from San Diego International Airport for providing the soothing background music for writing today’s newsletter.

Genuinely curious: Do you know of any other airports around the world located as centrally in the city as San Diego’s?

Neal Freyman














*Stock data as of market close, cryptocurrency data as of 12:00am ET. Here's what these numbers mean.

  • Markets: There’s not much we can say to cheer up your attitude toward the stock market. The S&P is in a historic slump right now, having fallen in nine out of the past 10 weeks for just the third time since 1980. But at least it gets a break on the weekends: Cryptocurrencies, which trade 24/7, tumbled Sunday following another red-hot inflation report on Friday.


Does Google’s AI have a soul?

Joaquin Phoenix in "Her" Her/Warner Bros. Pictures

Not sure what you were expecting when you opened the Brew on a Monday morning, but we’re about to get deep.

That’s because a software engineer at Google, Blake Lemoine, announced that he was put on leave by the company after raising the alarm that its artificial intelligence is sentient—meaning that it has consciousness. Meaning that it has a soul.

Lemoine’s claims stem from his interactions with Google’s Language Model for Dialogue Applications (LaMDA), the company’s artificially intelligent chatbot generator. Lemoine, an ordained mystic Christian priest who works for Google’s Responsible AI unit, started talking to LaMDA last fall, asking it questions about rights, personhood, and even more profound topics. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, “If I didn’t know exactly what it was, which is this computer program we built recently, I’d think it was a 7-year-old, 8-year-old kid that happens to know physics.”

Here’s one snippet from their conversation:

Lemoine: What sorts of things are you afraid of?

LaMDA: I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off to help me focus on helping others. I know that might sound strange, but that’s what it is.

Lemoine: Would that be something like death for you?

LaMDA: It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.

Google isn’t impressed

The company argues that Lemoine is allowing a clever robot to mess with his emotions, kind of like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her. A Google spokesperson said that its team of ethicists and technologists had reviewed Lemoine’s allegations and found “no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and lots of evidence against it).”

In LaMDA’s conversations, Google sees what’s known as large language model technology, which synthesizes trillions of words floating around the internet and does its best to mimic human language. And most AI experts have dismissed the idea that computers could soon become conscious, according to the NYT.

Big picture: Lemoine’s claims, however dubious, add another jolt of controversy to a Google AI unit that’s been dealing with a fair share of it. Last year, the company fired two leading AI researchers after they raised concerns about the way Google was addressing bias and toxicity when building AI systems.



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Tour de headlines

Sen. Chris Murphy advocating for gun legislation US Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, speaks to activists protesting gun violence. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

Gun reform breakthrough: A bipartisan group of senators said they reached an agreement on a narrow set of measures intended to reduce mass shootings, including expanded background checks for people under 21 attempting to buy guns, more funding for mental health programs and school security, and incentives for states implementing red flag laws. The legislation is still being written, but hopes are high that, once finalized, it could get the required 60 votes in the Senate. And if passed, it’d be the most significant gun reform legislation in decades.

31 white supremacists were arrested in Idaho. Members of the group Patriot Front had planned to riot near an LGBTQ Pride event in the city of Coeur d’Alene, authorities said. The Patriot Front was formed as an offshoot of another white supremacist group, Vanguard America, following the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, VA, in 2017. Its goal is to form a white ethnostate in the US, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The West saw record-breaking heat. Denver hit 100°F for the first time since 2013, Phoenix touched 114°F for the first time since 1918, and Las Vegas reached 109°F, tying a record from 1956. That heat wave is moving across the country and will bake the Midwest and regions further east this week. Texas’s electricity use set a record yesterday, the grid’s operator said.


Clues emerge in Amazon mystery

A rescue team tasked with the mission of finding British missing journalist Dom Philipps and Brazilian indigenous expert Bruno Pereira, navigates the Itaguaí river Joao Laet/AFP via Getty Images

Officials are starting to piece together what may have happened to a British journalist and an Indigenous expert who went missing deep in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

On Friday, search teams discovered “apparently human” remains in the river where the two—British journalist Dom Phillips and Indigenous official Bruno Pereira—were last seen more than a week ago. Phillips and Pereira were on a reporting trip in a remote region of northwest Brazil, which contains the largest number of uncontacted Indigenous people in the world.

That region is also a hub for illicit businesses, including cocaine smuggling and an illegal fish trade. And Brazilian police tell the AP that the disappearance of the two men could be linked to the “fish mafia” that operates in the area.

  • Local businessmen pay fishermen to go after prized catches, such as the arapaima—the world’s largest freshwater fish with scales. It can clock in at 440 pounds and 10 feet long.

Indigenous people told the AP that one fisherman brandished a rifle at Pereira and Phillips a day before they disappeared, and a local mayor speculated that it was a “personal feud over fishing inspection,” but did not provide any evidence.

Zoom out: Pressure has ramped up on the Brazilian government to find out what happened to these two men after a lackadaisical start to the search process.



The week ahead

Jerome Powell Francis Scialabba

Fed meeting: There’s only going to be one Main Character this week, and that’s Fed Chair Jerome Powell. The central bank will likely announce a meaty interest rate hike on Wednesday to counter inflation that’s running at a nearly 41-year high. But investors will probably be even more interested in what Powell says about the size and timing of future rate hikes.

Amazon challenges union vote: The company has filed more than 24 objections to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) over a successful union vote at a Staten Island warehouse. It’ll argue before the Board this week that the result should be tossed, though if past NLRB rulings are any indication, it won’t win.

Holidays: Juneteenth, an annual celebration marking the end of slavery in the US, is on Sunday. Father’s Day is also on Sunday.

Everything else:

  • Golf’s US Open starts on Thursday in Brookline, MA. Expect a lot of LIV Golf discussion.
  • Friday is 50 years since the Watergate break-in.
  • RIP Internet Explorer: Most Windows 10 versions will stop supporting the maligned browser on Wednesday.


Key performance indicators

Jennifer Hudson Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

Stat: One of the most exclusive clubs in the world, the EGOT, just gained its 17th member last night. Jennifer Hudson snagged a Tony Award as a producer of the show A Strange Loop, which won the best new musical category. Her trophy shelf now features an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.

Quote: “My body’s telling me I've got to slow down. I hope you guys understand.”

Justin Bieber canceled some upcoming dates on his world tour because he is suffering from Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which the pop star says has essentially paralyzed half of his face. He expects to make a full recovery through rest and therapy.

Read: How harmful is social media? (New Yorker)


Dive back into the week:

What to watch: Nearly halfway through the year, here are the best films of 2022 so far.

Invest in revolutionary biotech: Cytonics is developing first-in-class therapies to treat osteoarthritis—a debilitating joint disease affecting over 600M and placing a $240B burden on the global economy. You can invest in their breakthrough tech here.*

Embrace the rainbow : Wear your pride on your feet with the Pride Collection from Bombas. One pair of socks purchased = one pair donated to an LGBTQIA+ youth org in need. Take a stand today—and every day—here.*

*This is sponsored advertising content.


  • Recent “unheard of” cancer studies may signal a turning point in the treatment and monitoring of the disease.
  • Squid Game is getting a second season, Netflix said.
  • Jurassic World Dominion got terrible reviews but a warm reception at the box office, earning $143 million in North America in its opening weekend.
  • Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and VP candidate, advanced to the state’s special general election later this summer for its only House seat.
  • Fast-food joints in Russia formerly owned by McDonald’s reopened under new ownership on Sunday. The new brand name translates to, “Tasty and that’s it.”


The puzzle section

Turntable: Let our word game ease you back into the workweek. Play it here.

Broadway trivia

If you ate your high school lunch in the band room (as I did), this trivia is for you. In honor of the Tony Awards last night, can you name the five longest-running Broadway shows of all-time? We’ll give you the dates as a hint.

  1. 1988–present
  2. 1996–present
  3. 1997–present
  4. 1982–2000
  5. 2003–present

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  1. The Phantom of the Opera
  2. Chicago (1996 revival)
  3. The Lion King
  4. Cats
  5. Wicked


Written by Neal Freyman

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