We don’t have pronouns by which we can address inanimate objects because we haven't had any occasions to have actual conversations with them. And now that we can have something that seems like a conversation with an AI chatbot, the pronoun “it” just doesn’t work. For example, try changing the pronoun in my response “Nice try, but you’re hallucinating” to “it”: “Nice try, but it is hallucinating.” Not only is this awkward, it’ s confusing.
And the chatbot using “it” to refer to itself is at best pathetic. “It’s sorry. It apologizes for its error” sounds too much like Buffalo Bill talking to his kidnap victim in Silence of the Lambs.
We could, of course, create new pronouns. For example, we could teach the AI to say “Me’m sorry” instead of “I’m sorry.” And we could refer to the AI as “Sousa” instead of “you,” as in “Sousa got that wrong.” But do we really want to teach anything on the planet to talk like Jar Jar Binks? (Translations via lingojam.com/JarJarBinks.)
Worse, whatever pronouns we choose, we’ ll quickly get used to them and will be back in our current predicament—talking to AI as if it is a sentient creature with a sense of self, except we’d be calling it “it” or some new, made-up pronoun.
By spending billions of dollars training machine learning models to talk like a friendly human, including using pronouns for sentient creatures, we may have taken that first big step down a slippery slope toward believing, falsely, that these machines are sentient.