Jewish Wisdom for the Age of Artificial Intelligence

March 17 2023

New machine-learning programs like ChatGPT—the newest version of which was just released on Tuesday—that can have conversations, answer questions, and produce pieces of writing to specification have lately gained much attention and admiration, and also generated much concern. Among the questions these technologies raise are whether they will achieve sentience, and at what point they might be due the rights and obligations of personhood. Drawing on ancient mystical texts, talmudic discussions of the halakhic status of a golem (artificial humanoid), and various other rabbinic works, Netanel Wiederblank tries to bring a Jewish perspective to these questions. His  point of departure is the statement in Genesis 1:27 that God created man “in His own image.”

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin [1816–1893] and Rabbi Shimon Schwab [1908–1995] point to . . . man’s ability to handle complexity and contradiction. Unlike a computer, which gets stuck when the pieces don’t fit, a human being can embrace opposite and sometimes contradictory realities without requiring a clear-cut resolution. . . . The ability to handle contradiction may stem from something else unique to man—his very composition is a merger of the irreconcilable. Indeed, Moses Naḥmanides [1194–1270] emphasizes that the uniqueness in man lies in his being comprised of the physical and spiritual—two aspects with opposite characteristics.

On the one hand, advances in AI allow computers to address complex issues in a way that traditional computing could not. One method involves a generative adversarial network, which is a class of machine learning where two neural networks contest with each other in order to solve a problem and overcome obstacles, instead of getting stuck in the way traditional computers do. However, this is still a far cry from a human’s ability to handle complexity.

While a computer can be programmed to maximize convenience, efficiency, and safety, it cannot hold onto complex and opposing emotions. Instead, when it encounters a problem, it requires a resolution. We, however, are asked to live with complexity without the expectation of a resolution.

Yet, as these technologies continue to develop, will they eventually start to blur the boundaries between human and machine? Wiederblank argues that there is less to fear than meets the eye. Much as the ability of programs like ChatGPT to write essays or solve complex mathematical problems will force teachers to give their students assignments that require more genuine independent thought, he writes, the fact that “machines can do so many things that seem human forces us to appreciate better what it really means to be human.”

Read more at Jewish Action

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Genesis, Judaism, Nahmanides, Netziv, Technology

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad