Recently, the experimental computer program known as ChatGPT, which provides answers in text form to questions posed by users—based on knowledge it has acquired from studying the Internet—has been getting much attention from social and traditional media. Such technological novelties naturally raise both hopes and fears about the potential of artificial intelligence, and the moral and ethical questions it might pose. Aaron Segal considers some of these questions in his review of Staying Human: A Jewish Theology for the Age of Artificial Intelligence, by Harris Bor:
[T]he book isn’t so much about artificial intelligence as such, as about the specter of a technological singularity, in which an artificial superintelligence emerges—a being vastly more intelligent than humans—and in the process effectively swallows us pitiful little human beings, “integrating” us into a single, enormously powerful and knowledgeable system. . . . The thought of many of us plugging permanently into the metaverse—whether for kicks or of necessity—all the while being supplied with nutrients unawares, is no longer just an abstract philosophical thought experiment proposed to test the truth of hedonism, or just a science-fictional dystopia: it’s a realistic science-fictional dystopia.
[Bor’s] discussion of Shabbat, which caps the book, is perhaps the most profound. He notes that “On Shabbat, the roles we generally perform are forbidden or forgotten. I am not a lawyer. My friend is not a dentist, teacher, or producer.” This paradoxically gives rise, as Bor notes, to two opposing ways of being. On the one hand, the suspension of roles makes it so that “existence is undifferentiated.” . . . On the other hand, the suspension of roles allows us to resist, temporarily, the all-consuming and objectifying march of technology, which makes each of us a mere role-player, a tool in some larger project that isn’t one’s own. On Shabbat we manage in one fell swoop, and by virtue of the very same cessation of labor, to encounter both the oneness of the whole and our ineliminable individuality.
Bor’s book contains no concrete proposals for contending with the sweeping impact of artificial intelligence in general, or the prospect of a singularity in particular. As I see things, that’s an urgent desideratum, and more Jewish thinkers and halakhic authorities need to take it up. But the book makes a compelling case that a halakhic way of life is an excellent preparation for what lies ahead. Whatever its merits in addressing the future, it has already enriched my experience of halakhah in the present.