Jewish Wisdom for the Age of Artificial Intelligence

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 to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus