LaMDA: Simple Chat Bot or Ghost in the Machine?

The Internet and social media have been buzzing for a couple of days about a Google engineer who seems to think an AI program developed by Google and called LaMDA is sentient. Huh?

Interestingly, the engineer at issue seems to have been put on administrative leave since, leaving us to ponder this. Are we really already THERE?

Though the story makes for a good one, the overall feeling around the digital campfire is that, NO, we are not there yet. At this point, no AI is not really capable of thinking for itself and coming up with mental leaps, ideas, preferences or opinions, in a way that truly approximates what we do as humans. Sure AI can make connections, but real ideas of its own? Feelings? Opinions? A personality? No, sadly it seems all that, for the time being anyway, is still science-fiction.

The reason I mention the story though, is that at some point, if we keep collectively investing in AI, there may come a time when something does come out of it that may very approximate pretty well for it is to be a person. If and when that happens, we may have to reexamine how, legally, we define a person and what rights we may want to give such digital personalities. Though this may not be a real problem for a while yet, at some point, it may very well become a real issue we’re collectively forced to contend with.

Sure, for now keyboard conversations with chat bots like LaMDA are more like parlor tricks, but it may not always remain so. Shouldn’t we collectively start thinking about this eventuality, including as to how the law may want to handle it? This kind of story begs the question.

Google Photos Class Action in Québec Derailed Off the Bat

The Québec Superior Court recently rejected a proposed class action involving Google Photos and the allege misuse of biometrics data resulting from this Google service. In the decision at issue, Homsy v. Google (2022 QCCS 722), the court refused to authorize the proposed class action, because the plaintiff failed to show he had even mere color of rights. In short, he failed to demonstrate that he had a case or, rather, what could be reasonably considered a real case.

Legally, the explanation of the rejection off hand of this (proposed) class action stems from the requirement that any such proceedings in Québec seem, at the very least, to hold water, if you will. To do so, the court should conclude, looking at the claim as presented, that if the alleged facts were true, then this case would justify a Québec court indeed awarding the remedy requested by that plaintiff.

Even though one might think this allows anyone to sue like this by alleging X, Y and Z, it is not so, as it could force unfounded and/or unworthy proceedings on the Québec justice system -something we collectively definitely do not need.

Indeed, jurisprudence is now teaching us that not mere allegations in initial proceedings (to institute a class action) may NOT suffice to allow a class action in Québec to stand. In effect, simply alleging a bunch of suppositions and theories isn’t sufficient to introduce a valid class action before Québec courts. You need more; maybe not tons more, but more. Thus, given the lack of even a modicum of evidence in the case at issue, the court agreed to throw it out (or, rather, refuse to authorize this class action against Google); this case simply did not pass muster. As cases such as this one demonstrate, even though Québec rules generally seek to facilitate class actions (as compared to your ordinary proceedings, anyway), you do need more than mere conjecture, theories, suppositions and inferences . If this is all you have initially (as was the case in Homsy), then the court may simply refuse to authorize your action -sorry.

Québec Adopts its Charter of the French Language v. 3.0

The province of Québec recently sought to modernize its Charter of the French Language (the “Charter“), a piece of legislation many Quebecers still call “Bill 101” to this day. After partially amending this statute in 2019, the Québec government overhauled it earlier this month, by adopting Bill 96. Through this bill, Québec is expanding the obligations imposed on organizations and businesses, to use French whenever (and however) interacting with residents of the province.

Though I don’t want to get into all the details this morning, it seems worthwhile to provide you with an overview of the kinds of changes this new version of the Charter brings us, so here it is so as to provide you with an idea of what we’re now facing:

  • A general obligation that all organizations serve their clients in French, by providing them with any and all documents and documentation in French, as the case may be;
  • A major change of the rule as to the display of non-French trademarks, by doing away with the exception relating to the common law trademarks. From now on, only common law trademarks composed solely of French words will be tolerated under the Charter, while the rest of trademarks used in Québec will have to be actually registered to pass muster;
  • Reinforcement of the provisions relating to public display of trademarks (e.g. signage) by now requiring that the overall appearance provide substantially more space to French, as compared to other languages such as English (i.e. store fronts should show about twice as much content in French than other languages, not taking into account the trademark);
  • Introduction of a new rule stating that adhesion contracts must now be available in French as a condition of validity for the contracts that are actually entered into by Quebecers, I including but not limited to those for consumers;
  • Lowering from 50 employees to 25, the threshold above which organizations must adopt and apply a francization program;
  • Adoption of stricter rules as to job postings in French and when an organization may require that job applicants have language skills unrelated to French;
  • Addition of a new rule that all written documents and documentation provided by employers to their employees systematically be in French.

It also seems worthwhile to mention that Bill 96 also adds a very American twist to the Charter, by introducing a private right of action. Once in force, this will allow individuals to sue businesses that violate the Charter, so as to obtain either injunctions or (and yes, this is what’s going to have business owners pay attention) damages and punitive damages. As if often the case whenever such rights are introduced in a piece of legislation, class actions will be the first type of proceedings we can expect them to be used for.

I should mention, finally, that most changes outlined above will not come into effect for 3 years, so as to provide businesses with a transition period during which they can bring their organizations in line with the new rules. So, June 1st, 2025 is the deadline you should remember, to update all your practices and your way of doing things in Québec. Mark your calendars!

So, is your organization in-line with all this? Probably not. If it is not, then you now have less than 3 years to do your homework!