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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law