T O P I C
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) AND THE JEWS
STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
A noted scholar and researcher, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin serves as content editor at Chabad.org, and writes the popular weekly Ask Rabbi Y column. Rabbi Shurpin is the rabbi of the Chabad Shul in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he resides
with his wife, Ester, and their children.
I read recently that AI (artificial intelligence) has advanced so far that some robots can now pass the Turing test, which tests whether a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior is indistinguishable from a human’s. While robots are still not indistinguishable in all ways, that day is not too far off. Does this mean an AI-powered robot might someday be considered a human according to Jewish law? Could it be counted for a minyan?
As the wise King Solomon put it, “There is nothing new under the sun.”1 The concept of man-made men (golems), and the question of their humanness (or lack thereof) has been discussed since Talmudic times. (Of course, there is a huge difference between a “living” golem and a man-made robot powered by AI, but this would seem to be the best place to start our discussion).
The Talmud relates that Rava once created a “man” through the mystical codes within the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Formation”). He then sent this man to Rabbi Zeira, who spoke to i, but the man was incapable of speech and did not reply.
Rabbi Zeira then said to it,
“You are a creation of one of my colleagues; return to your dust!”2
The biblical term for “human” is often “[one who was] born from a woman,”3 implying that the definition of a human is one who was born from one. Additionally, Scripture describes murder as “spilling the blood of a human with[in] a human.”4 Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (known as the Chacham Tzvi, 1656–1718), whose own grandfather Rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm reportedly created a “man,”explains that only one who kills a person that was formed within another human being is liable for murder. Thus, killing a being created from another source does not constitute murder.5
The question of murder aside, would this “man” be Jewish and be counted for a minyan? The Chacham Tzvi cites the rabbinic teaching that “the works of the righteous are their offspring.” Thus, one might consider a creation of a (righteous) Jew to be Jewish. However, he notes that since Rabbi Zeira did not hesitate to destroy Rava’s creation, it is evident that it was not qualified to count for a minyan. For had there been even a minimal use for this “man,” to destroy it would have been wasteful.6
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Shapiro of Munkacs (1850–1913), in his work Darkei Teshuvah, points out that since the Chacham Tzvi (and others7) needed to cite a specific source in Scripture to prove that killing a humanoid did not constitute murder, apparently he held that it may very well have some element of humanness, independent of the question of murder. He therefore entertains the question of whether the shechitah (“kosher slaughter”) performed by such a creation would be valid.8
The notion that a golem may have an element of humanness left some, including the Chacham Tzvi’s two sons, a bit puzzled.
IT HAS NO SOUL
Both sons, Rabbi Avraham Meshulam Zalman, in his work Divrei Rabeinu Meshulam,9 and Rabbi Yaakov Emden in Sheilot Yaavetz,10 quote Kabbalists,11 who explain that only G-d has the power to draw a human soul down from heaven. At best, a person using the power of the Sefer Yetzirah can only animate something on par with an animal. It is for this reason that if one “killed” such a creature (as in the story with Rava), they say, it is not considered murder.
FROM GOLEMS TO ROBOTS
It should be noted that unlike a robot, a golem has some sort of a spiritual spark animating it. It is brought to life through a righteous individual using the secrets of creation hidden within the Sefer Yetzirah. This is clearly not the case for a man-made robot powered by algorithms.
Thus, our robots, powered by computers, are seemingly even less “human” than a golem. Nevertheless, putting that aside for argument’s sake, there is one aspect where a robot may have an advantage over a golem.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND SPEECH
Everything in the world can be divided into four “kingdoms”: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. The word for “human” is medaber, which means “speaker.”12 This implies that the ability to speak is integral to who we are as humans. Thus, unlike the Chacham Tzvi, many explain that the reason we can’t count a golem for a minyan is that it lacks the faculty of speech. At first blush, this would imply that if the creature could just talk (as today’s robots certainly can), it would be considered human.
However, as many point out, the key defining characteristic of humanity cannot be speech alone, for there are people who cannot speak—and parrots that can.13 Therefore, they explain that when we refer to humanity as medaber, the actual intent is intelligence.14
Based on this, there are some who have made the surprising claim that if one would somehow make an intelligent and speaking golem (a feat many mystics say is theoretically possible15) it perhaps could be counted for a minyan.16 If this is true for a golem, then perhaps it would be true for a robot powered by AI!
However, many point out that when the rabbis say “intelligence,” they aren’t merely referring to the collection of data and facts, or even the ability to analyze and problem-solve, but to what some would call “moral intelligence,” or as others put it, “free will.”17
IT ALL COMES TOGETHER: SPEECH, INTELLECT AND SOUL
The chassidic masters question why humanity is defined as medaber (“speaker”) and not maskil (“understander”).18 After all, as we have pointed out, there are people who are unable to talk and animals that can!
Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch explains that the use of the term medaber is indeed precise; however, it doesn’t just refer to the ability to talk, but rather to the koach hadibur, the potential or power to talk.19 Human speech is different than any other similar type of communication, for it is not merely an external “revelation”; rather, it reveals what is "hidden" inside the person. Certainly, one can parrot words and sounds, but medaber refers to the power that gives shape, letters and words to one’s thoughts, which are then spoken with one's mouth. The chassidic masters explain that the faculty of speech is in fact rooted in the essence of one’s soul, and it is therefore much higher and deeper than intellect itself. Thus, although two people may have the same exact thought, they express it in their own unique, individual way.
Thus, even when we characterize humans as medaber, “those who talk,” we are essentially also characterizing them as having unique, G-d-given souls.
And that is something that AI cannot replicate.
1. Ecclesiastes 1:9. 2. Talmud, Sanhedrin 65b. 3. Job 14:1,15:14, 25:4.
4. Genesis 9:7. 5. Responsum Chacham Tzvi 93. 6. Responsum Chacham Tzvi 93.
7. See, for example, Darkei Teshuvah 7:11. 8. See Darkei Teshuvah 7:11.
9. Divrei Rabeinu Meshulam 10.Sheilot Yaavetz 2:82.
11. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Ramak, Pardes Rimonim 24:10; Rabbi Avraham Azulai, Chessed L’Avraham 4:30.
12. See, for example, Kuzari 2:8-24; Eitz Chaim, Shaar Derushai A.B.Y.A. 1. See also Targum Onkelus, Genesis 2:7, which describes man as ruah memalala, i.e. “one who speaks.”
13. See, for example, Igrot Kodesh of Maharash, p. 98. 14. See also Rashi on Genesis 2:7.
15. Igrot Kodesh, Maharash, p. 98. 16. Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzin in Sidrei Taharot, Ohalot 5a.
17. See, for example, Targum Onkelos on Genesis 2:7 and 3:22 (note that he describes man as being given a “speaking spirit,” but at the same time also explain that the uniqueness of man is that only man has the capacity to know good and bad); Rashi on Genesis 2:7 and 3:22; Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuvah 5:1;Rambam on Genesis 2:7.
18. See, for example, the Targum Onkelos on Genesis 2:7, who describes that man was given a ruah memalala, i.e., “a speaking spirit”
19. Torat Shalom, p. 245; see also Rashi on Numbers 27:16, where it is also implied that daat is a reference to a person’s individuality.
WORLD RELIGIONS AND AI
State Legitimacy, April 14 2019
There are practical, ethical and theological challenges for religion posed by technology and AI. But what if the technology is actually becoming theological in itself?
AI poses several challenges for the religions of the world, from theological interpretations of intelligence, to ‘natural’ order, and moral authority. Southern Baptists released a set of principles last week, after an extended period of research, which appear generally sensible – AI is a gift, it reflects our own morality, must be designed carefully, and so forth. Privacy is important; work is too (we shouldn’t become idlers); and (predictably) robot sex is verboten. Surprisingly perhaps, lethal force in war is ok, so long as it is subject to review, and human agents are responsible for what the machines do: who those agents specifically are is a more thorny issue that’s side-stepped.
Jewish writers are quite sanguine about the whole thing. Confronted with the prospect of an AI-driven robot apocalypse, Rabbi Jack Abramowitz writes for Jew in the City magazine ‘[w]e have pretty good forecasts for our end-of-the-world scenario – the Messianic era, the future revival of the dead, etc. – and being taken over by a giant computer or sentient holograms doesn’t really fit into that scenario too neatly.’ Oi vey! He also says that the theological interpretation is that man can create intelligence, the interpretation being that ‘[t]he Talmud in Sanhedrin (65b) says that humans have the potential to create worlds, including life.’
Emma Davis poses the question ‘can robots be Jewish?’, and the answer seems to be probably not. However, Rabbi Mark Goldfeder suggests that his interpretation of the scripture is that where someone is not physically capable of fulfilling any element of religious obligation, that it doesn’t apply to them. It doesn’t stop them being a member of the tribe, he says.
Pope Francis in Davos earlier this year mentioned AI, though only briefly. ‘Artificial intelligence, robotics and other technological innovations must be so employed that they contribute to the service of humanity and to the protection of our common home, rather than to the contrary, as some assessments unfortunately foresee,’ he said. He was particularly conscious of the place of human dignity, and of labour, in these pursuits. It doesn’t appear that AI has any special place in the Vatican thinking on technology, which in turn appears part of the dialogue on economics. This echoes Tim Morton’s suggestion in Hyperobjects that a primitive AI may already have established itself as early as the industrial age, a ‘weird cybernetic system’. Outside the Vatican, and especially in the broader Christian church, there is much more debate, it seems.
Islam appears less effusive (at least based on a cursory search) though there is evidence of an emergent debate. For Hindus, there seem to be a number of ethical debates, but few theological ones.
My focus of course is less on how organised religion addresses technology and AI, either from a theological perspective, or that of proselytisation; rather I have focused on where technology itself is becoming theological. Nor is this about a ‘Singularity Church’, or Anthony Levandowski’s AI God (Elon Musk said of his former employee that he should be ‘[o]n the list of people who should absolutely *not* be allowed to develop digital superintelligence.’) Our theology is more a way of being, within which churches can form and have opinions, relevance and culture. Our theology has moved from being religious, to political, to economic (Agamben) – and is potentially moving towards becoming technological.
THE CYBORG REVOLUTION IS HERE.
IS IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS?,
The Times of Israel Simona Weinglass, 1 October 20115
Genetic engineering, nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces will soon transform us into a species of human-machine hybrids, says Yuval Harari. What do Jewish and moral traditions have to say about this post-human future?
In the 1991 film “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a cyborg, a combination of robot and human who is sent back in time to protect a young boy. The cyborg has human skin and blood, with robot parts underneath and a computer chip for a brain. Bullets and crashes barely dent him, while his superhuman strength and encyclopedic brain make it almost impossible for humans to defeat him. But the cyborg is lacking in other ways. He does not understand what’s wrong with killing people and seems to lack emotions and empathy.
Over the course of the film, Schwarzenegger’s cyborg evolves. He learns to use slang: “Hasta la vista, baby!” and even tells the boy at one point, “I know now why you cry, but it is something I can never do.”
The Terminator is science fiction, right? Well, it used to be. Today, cutting-edge technologies as well as leading scientists and thinkers are raising the specter of a world in which humans merge with machines and cyborgs become commonplace.
Earlier this year, international panic greeted the announcement by scientists in China that they had genetically engineered human embryos (with mixed results) using the powerful new CRISPR technique. Within a few years, IVF clinics could be offering parents designer traits (height, muscles, resistance to Alzheimers) and potentially traits of their own invention (wings? killer strength?).
The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) this month revealed that it has implanted chips on paralysed patients’ brains, allowing them to move and experience sensation from a robotic arm. But the same technology could be used to give an able-bodied person six extra arms that they control with their thoughts, or create a super soldier with guns and spears as additional limbs.
As technology makes such things possible, many of us feel at once exhilarated, terrified and powerless. What is it that makes us human, and is there any sacred line we must not cross? As we plunge into the future, can we look to the past, to Jewish and ethical traditions, for guidance?
THE POST-HUMAN FUTURE
Yuval Noah Harari, a lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, told The Times of Israel that we are indeed on the cusp of a revolution.
“Throughout history there were many economic, political and technological revolutions,” he wrote in an email.
“But one thing remained constant: humanity itself. We still have the same body and mind as our ancestors in the Roman Empire or in ancient Egypt. Yet in the coming decades, for the first time in history, humanity itself will undergo a radical revolution. Not only our tools and politics, but our bodies and minds will be transformed by genetic engineering, nanotechnology and brain-computer interfaces. Bodies and minds will be the main products of the 21st century economy.”
Harari says that when we think about the future we generally think about a world in which people are identical to us in every important way but enjoy better technology: laser guns, intelligent robots, and spaceships that travel at the speed of light.
“Yet the revolutionary potential of future technologies is to change Homo sapiens itself, including our bodies and our minds, and not merely our vehicles and weapons. The most amazing thing about the future won’t be the spaceships, but the beings flying them.”
According to Harari, the problems that humanity is currently preoccupied with, like the global economic crisis, the Islamic State and the situation in the Ukraine pale in comparison to the question of human enhancement.
“Given the breathtaking pace of developments in biotechnology and artificial intelligence, I would be extremely surprised if in 200 years, earth will still be populated by humans like you and me. We are probably one of the last generations of Homo Sapiens. We will still have grandchildren, but I am not so sure that our grandchildren will have grandchildren. At least not human ones. They will be more different from us than we are different from Neanderthals or chimpanzees.”
THE SINGULARITY IS NEAR
Harari is not alone in his predictions. His views on human history and our post-human future have struck a chord. Over 100,000 people have taken his online course A Brief History of Humankind. His book Sapiens was a New York Times and international bestseller which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg chose recently for his twice monthly online book club.
Harari can be said to subscribe to the notion of the Singularity, a highly popular belief in Silicon Valley and tech circles worldwide. The Singularity is the notion that within a few generations, technology will become so sophisticated that it reaches a tipping point where it will alter human existence in ways that are inconceivable to us today. Science fiction writer Vernor Vinge predicts this will happen in 2030 while Google executive Ray Kurzweil estimates 2045. Most adherents believe the Singularity will come about through artificial intelligence, at the moment when robots become self aware. Kurzweil envision a utopia, where humans, at least some humans, achieve immortality by becoming cyborgs. Others, like physicist Stephen Hawking or tech entrepreneur Elon Musk fear that artificially intelligent robots may turn against their human creators and kill them.
“I think it is far more likely that we will merge with the robots, than that they will revolt and kill us. The big danger is not that some evil artificial intelligence (AI) will murder us, but rather that a superior artificial intelligence will make most humans useless. Computer algorithms are catching up with humans in more and more cognitive fields. It is extremely unlikely that computers will develop anything even close to human consciousness, but in order to replace humans in the economy, computers don’t need consciousness. They just need intelligence.”
THE JEWISH ETHICS OF CYBORGS
If technology is about to lead us into such a radically new world, perhaps Jewish tradition has something to say about this? For instance, that it is hubris for humans to be tinkering with God’s creation?
No, says Rabbi Ira Bedzow, director of the Biomedical Ethics and Humanities Program at New York Medical College. The Jewish tradition in general has a favorable view of medicine, which can include human enhancement.
For instance, there are modern rabbinical responsa (rulings) on the issue of cosmetic surgery.
“Some have said that cosmetic surgery is forbidden if it is outside the boundaries of healing. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said it’s okay if a person feels they fall below societal norms and it would help them get married or feel better about themselves.”
In that vein, in a society where having eight arms is common, if a person decides to augment themselves with six additional robotic arms, “I personally may not ever want them, but if it’s of benefit to someone, then congratulations,” says Bedzow.
Bedzow cites a midrash that expresses the favorable view of improving creation as long as the purpose is moral. A wicked Roman provocateur asks Rabbi Akiva whether the works of God are greater or the works of man. Akiva surprised him by saying the works of man, and brings him some ears of corn along with some cakes. “The former are the works of God, the latter of man. Are not the latter superior to the ears of corn?” So too with circumcision, says Akiva. If God hadn’t wanted Jews to perform circumcision, God would have created babies that were born circumcised, “but the Holy One blessed be He has given the commandments for the sole purpose of refining our character through them.”
However, says Bedzow, one ethical red flag is the genetic editing of embryos.
“We need to think about whether parents own their children or if they are only their guardians. When genetic engineering procedures, for example, are still experimental, we would also want to consider how much risk is appropriate to take with another’s life.”
WHO’S AFRAID OF BECOMING A CYBORG?
What is it we really fear when we contemplate the cyborg future? According to Yuval Noah Harari, it’s change.
“People are afraid of change and of the unknown. But change is inevitable. We need to confront the change rather than run away from it.”
Philosopher and computer scientist Jaron Lanier is a prominent critic of Singularity and the vision of human immortality through cyborgism.
“The idea that people would change does not bother me,” says Lanier, who is considered one of the pioneering figures in the field of virtual reality.
“People have changed a great deal from ancient times,” Lanier told The Times of Israel.
“We now live twice as long. We’re able to avoid many disease conditions that used to be commonplace, and to have better nutrition, be more able bodied, taller. There’s even an argument that IQ has been rising. I don’t mind people changing.”
What Lanier does mind is the idea of the Singularity, a sudden change that transforms everything at once.
“If you want to have that level of change it means that you’re opposed to learning and to memory because learning and memory can only take place gradually. In that sense, I’d say the Singularity is profoundly anti-Jewish because what the Jewish tradition brought to the world was the idea of memory. We keep the Torah, we very carefully copy it so as not to forget it. Some of the Ten Commandments are about remembering things, remembering Shabbat, remembering the nature of God. So we’re all about memory. And the idea of the Singularity is precisely the rejection of memory. Because what else could it mean? So I say it’s the most anti-Jewish idea in history.”
What do you think of the idea that we will all be a meld between humans and machines and that we’re the last generation that will have grandchildren?
“There’s a very strong fantasy in the technology world of overcoming death through technology. And it’s totally true that if that happens we would have to stop having children and we would turn into a very boring plutocracy very quickly. I think we would have to reinvent a new kind of death for ourselves and it would be a worse kind of death.”
CYBORG HAVES AND HAVE NOTS
Lanier says something else that’s surprising: that when we talk about immortality through cyborgism we’re actually talking about inequality.
“The current stance in the technical world is not immortality for everybody but biological immortality for a few elite people and then simulated immortality for everyone else. Simulated immortality would be some kind of artificial intelligence program that creates a ghost of people so their family could remember them.”
“The software behind artificial intelligence is always much less interesting than we pretend. It wouldn’t actually embody anything like a person. There are already all these projects to make artificial ghosts of soldiers. What would actually happen is there’d be these programs where we pretend that we’ve given immortality to many people and then we’d actually try to preserve the bodies of certain elite people in the technical world. That’s a terrible fantasy. That’s something close to the purest evil.”
Harari does not dispute that the cyborgism could lead to much greater inequality than we have today.
“Throughout history,” Harari says, “ the rich and powerful always argued that they were superior to everyone else. That they were more clever, more courageous, more creative, more moral than everyone else. This was not true. As far as we know, there were no real differences in abilities between the emperors and the peasants. However, in the coming generations humankind might split into biological castes, with upper-class humans purchasing upgraded abilities for themselves and their children. These upgraded super-humans may really be more clever, more courageous, and more creative than everybody else.”
The humans who don’t or can’t afford to upgrade themselves could find themselves cast aside.
That’s because historically, says Harari, “intelligence always went hand in hand with consciousness. The only intelligent entities were conscious entities. The only ones who could play chess, drive vehicles, fight wars and diagnose diseases were conscious human beings. But intelligence is now decoupling from consciousness. We are developing non-conscious algorithms that can play chess, drive vehicles, fight wars and diagnose diseases better than us. When the economy has to choose between intelligence and consciousness, the economy will choose intelligence. It has no real need for consciousness. Once AI outperforms human drivers and doctors, millions of drivers and doctors around the world will lose their jobs, even though the AI has no consciousness.”
“What will be the use of humans in such a world? What will we do with billions of economically useless humans? We don’t know. We don’t have any economic model for such a situation. This may well be the greatest economic and political question of the twenty-first century.”
Is artificial intelligence a fraud?
“How is the idea of people becoming cyborgs connected to the the idea that artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence?” The Times of Israel asked Jaron Lanier.
“It’s identical to it.”
Yes, but one idea is that we’re going to become cyborgs–merge with computers and the other idea is that robots will take over?
“If you believe that these super intelligent machines will take over then some people believe they’ll keep humans as pets or humans will merge into them, while others believe humans will be completely destroyed or eaten by them. There is some sort of distinction there but the thing is, I think the whole basis of the debate is stupid.”
Why Lanier thinks the idea of superhuman intelligence is stupid
Back in the 1950s, explains Lanier, there was a fantasy that we’d be able to write perfect computer programs that would become intelligent and do things like translate between languages, much in the same way a human being does.
“These fantasies never worked out. What we call artificial intelligence only started to work because of this other thing called big data.”
Basically, in order to produce a translation, our current translation software scans millions of human translations each day and calculates the statistically most likely translations for a particular word, phrase or sentence.
“Artificial intelligence doesn’t really exist. All it is is a different way of packaging the efforts of millions of people. To me there’s a total absurdity in saying that AI will surpass people because it’s made of people. It isn’t really something by itself. Based on everything we’ve seen demonstrated until now and every indication from research, it’s not something different from people.”
But maybe there will be a breakthrough and AI will actually be intelligent? Maybe we’ll figure out how the brain works?
“Well, maybe someday. This is the phenomenon I like to call premature mystery reduction. On the one hand, if someone says, ‘Oh it’s impossible, we’ll never understand how thinking works,’ that seems crazy to me because of course it’s possible. But then if someone says ‘oh, we’ve already done it’ or ‘we’re absolutely sure we will do it in a certain amount of time,’ then that’s also crazy. To be very clear, we currently don’t know what a thought is, we don’t have any scientific model of these things. Someday maybe. But we tend to act as if we already have it.”
For this reason, says Lanier, there is no problem of superfluous people who will be made redundant by artificial intelligence.
“Since artificial intelligence is a fake, a phony and doesn’t exist, it’s not that those people aren’t needed. Its that they’re needed in different ways than they were needed before.”
“So if you take language translation as an example, technical companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM and Apple literally steal live translations every day from millions of translators all over the world to get our example set to do our [machine translations]. We don’t tell them that we’re stealing from them and we certainly don’t pay them. So if you ask what will we do with all those people, we just pay them for the new way in which they’re useful, which is providing the data to the so-called artificial-intelligence algorithms.”
Lanier uses the term “we” because he sold a company to Google and is currently employed by Microsoft. He has mentioned in other interviews that these companies are somewhat receptive his critiques of them. Lanier’s book “Who Owns the Future?” in which he delineates these ideas, won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2014.
“The solution to this problem is incredibly easy and it’s called honesty. If we stop stealing data from people then the problem solves itself. We still need those people and we’re still using their stuff.”
Yes, journalists have seen their income decimated in the last ten years.
“I want you to understand that your loss of income is exactly precisely the same thing as artificial intelligence. They’re indistinguishable. Artificial intelligence just means stealing data from people.”
REALITY OR RELIGION?
If the idea that artificially intelligent beings will render ordinary humans superfluous is not true — if, as Lanier argues, it is a hope or an ideology rather than a fact — where does this ideology come from?
Boston University professor Richard Landes is a historian who specializes in millennialism — that is, movements throughout history, from stone age cargo cults to the French Revolution, religious movements, Marxism, Nazism and global Jihad, that seek to create a perfect society on earth.
Landes says that human enhancement per se — glasses, bionic arms and even genetic engineering — are not millennialist, but the idea that they will lead to a fundamental transformation of the human condition, is.
”The Millennial dream has immense appeal, a long history of seducing people into unbelievably stupid and/or destructive scenarios, including some of the smartest people on the planet. It’s unintended consequences are often productive, but it can be incredibly destructive.”
What is the appeal?
“Look at ISIS, which is a millennial movement. We’re stunned by its attractiveness, we’re stunned that anyone, much less so many people, want to join up. That’s because we underestimate how attractive it is to believe that you are part of a radical transformation of the human condition, that the entire history of mankind has been building up to this moment.”
At the same time, says Landes, the very appeal of the Singularity should raise skepticism.
“People have been announcing millennial transformations for millennia. They have always been wrong. The odds are high against this tech-fueled fantasy actually coming out the way they imagine it.”
This doesn’t mean that people won’t have six arms or designer babies, just that the human condition will continue very much the same way afterward, with its frustrations, disappointments, triumphs, conflicts, passions and, yes, mortality.
The widow and orphan
Landes also asserts that the Singularity movement is elitist. Its adherents “fancy themselves among the people who will be part of the new world. They won’t be the cast offs. Believers characteristically imagine they’ll be marching with the other saints.”
The idea, no matter how wild a guess, that the vast majority of people will become economically useless, and watch video games on drugs, he says “shows a contempt for the rest of humanity that is breathtaking, and not Jewish. This is one of the ways millennial ideas seduce the self-absorbed. They’re not thinking about the losers — they’re an afterthought. We, the chosen, are the cosmic heroes.”
sapiensHarari, for his part, says his depictions are descriptive, not prescriptive. The cyborg future, he says, “will result in enormous new opportunities, as well as frightful new dangers. There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic about it. We need to be realist. We need to understand that this is really happening – it is science rather than science fiction – and it is high-time we start thinking about this very seriously.”
So how do we think about it?
A Jewish approach to cyborgism, says Rabbi Ira Bedzow, is to reject the idea that might makes right. If we’re adding robot parts or genetically modifying ourselves so that we can better compete in the economy, “that’s social Darwinism, the idea that life is a matter of competition and that success determines what is right, that we need to be as fit as possible to keep up. But that’s not the Jewish view.”
The Jewish view, says Bedzow, is “do not take advantage of any widow or orphan” by which the Torah means anyone who is oppressed. It may be fine to enhance yourself, but it depends on your purpose. “Those who can survive should be helping those who are having trouble.”
Times of Israel, Adam Soclof, 13 June 2014
JA — Robots can hold a conversation, but should they count in a minyan?
A chatbot at Britain’s University of Reading was heralded this week as passing the Turing test, showing a conversational ability that managed to fool people into thinking it was human. Using the fictional identity of 13-year-old Ukrainian boy with the name Eugene Goostman, the robot convinced one-third of a panel’s members that they were interacting with a fellow human being.
While some have expressed skepticism about the achievement’s significance, the advance of artificial intelligence raises profound questions.
“From the practical legal perspective, robots could and should be people,” Rabbi Mark Goldfeder wrote in an article published on CNN’s website in response to the robot’s feat. “As it turns out, they can already officially fool us into thinking that they are, which should only strengthen their case.”
Goldfeder, a fellow at Emory University’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, is working on a book on robots in the law tentatively titled “Almost Human.” An Orthodox rabbi, Goldfeder spoke via online chat with JTA about whether robots could some day be welcomed as members of the Jewish community and what the Jewish tradition has to say about this issue.
What got you so interested in the topic of robots in Jewish law?
It was a natural evolution from apes, actually. I started off looking at the line between humans and non-humans in Jewish law, and realized that the demarcation was not as clear-cut in ancient times as appears to be now.
Throughout the discussions in rabbinic literature we find creatures like Bigfoot, mermaids, centaurs, etc., and yes the golem, who in many ways resembles a robot.
Once you assume it may not be a strictly speciesist argument, the move from great apes to robots is quite understandable — given, of course, the caveat the robots may not be technically alive in the classical sense.
What are the basic criteria that would make a robot/monkey/mermaid Jewish?
Well, we start with the Talmud in Sanhedrin, which tells us the story of Rava sending a golem to Rabbi Zeira. Rabbi Zeira ends up figuring out that the golem was not human — it couldn’t communicate effectively and couldn’t pass the Turing test, apparently — and so he destroys it.
The halachic literature asks why this was not considered ba’al tashchis, wasteful, since maybe the golem could have counted in a minyan.
While they conclude that this golem at least was not able to be counted — they leave open the possibility of a better golem counting — it seems then that creation by a Jewish person would give the golem/robot presumptive Jewish status. For living things there is always parentage and conversion.
I should of course clarify that this entire discussion is l’halacha v’lo l’maaseh, a theoretical outlaying of views.
Good clarification. Though being a robot seems like a convenient excuse to opt out of a bris.
In halachic terminology, we would consider him nolad mahul (i.e., it is like he comes from the factory pre-circumcized).
Theoretically speaking, say a robot walked into your office and said, “Rabbi, I want to count in the minyan.” Would that be enough evidence for you to count him?
Not necessarily. For the purposes of this discussion, I would accept the position of the Jerusalem Talmud in the third chapter of Tractate Niddah that when you are dealing with a creature that does not conform to the simple definition of “humanness” — i.e., born from a human mother or at least possessing human DNA, but it appears to have human characteristics and is doing human things — one examines the context to determine if it is human. When something looks human, and acts human, to the point that I think it might be human, then halachah might consider the threshold to have been crossed.
This makes sense from a Jewish ethical perspective as well. Oftentimes Jewish ethics are about the actor, not the one being acted upon. If I see something that for all intents and purposes looks human, I cannot start poking it to see if it bleeds. I have a responsibility to treat all that seem human as humans, and it is better to err on the side of caution from an ethical perspective.
In your opinion — more sociological than halachic — what’s your read on how seriously should Jewish institutions be preparing for the eventuality of artificially intelligent congregants or constituents?
I think the difference between science fiction and science is often time. If you were to ask me now, I don’t think Jewish institutions need to start worrying about it quite yet. Even with the Turing test officially passed, we are quite far from the situation of having a robot capable of walking among us unsuspected.
But I do think that Jewish thinkers should start tossing around the questions, because we’re probably 30, not 100, years away.
CAN A ROBOT WRITE A TORAH SCROLL?
Jewish Techs (source: http://www.kuka-robotics.com/) July 21, 2014
Since 10 July 2014, a KUKA robot has been writing a manuscript of the torah – at the speed of a human scribe – at the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
Go to AI andJEWISH VIDEOS TO SEE HOW THIS WAS DONE
The artistic group “robotlab”, that frequently uses industrial robots for performances in public spaces, deals with the relationship between humans and machines.
Writing the torah in the same way that a human would, combines centuries of cultural history and traditional techniques with state-of-the-art automation.
The KR 16-2 robot, which is predominantly used in the manufacturing industries due to its versatility and flexibility, is inscribing the 304,805 Hebrew letters on a roll of paper around 80 meters in length.
Equipped with a quill pen and ink, the robot eschews digital printing technology, adopting instead the human mode of writing and producing its manuscript of the torah at the same speed as a human.
The torah is traditionally produced by a specially trained scribe, or “sofer”. This scribe also ensures the requisite holiness of the scripture by devoting himself beforehand to the study of Jewish law and literature.
The robot manuscript, on the other hand, is not kosher and is thus unsuitable for use in synagogue services, as its production does not conform to the requirements of Jewish religious law.
The robot can be seen at the Jewish Museum in Berlin until 11 January 2015.
HOW DOES A SEFER TORAH BECOME ‘KOSHER’
From The Book of Jewish Knowledge by Nathan Ausubel, 1979, p478
It is without question true that the Torah Scroll, in both form and Hebrew calligraphic style, has remained the least changing of all Jewish religious articles. It therefore would be safe to say that the Torah Scroll, as we know it today, is pretty much like the one that was in use two thousand years ago.
The writing of a Sefer Torah was considered no routine task but a sacred rite, for it contained what every pious Jew believes to be the inspired commandments and the eternal truths revealed by God to Israel. For that reason, without being allowed any deviation, the Torah scribe (sofer), from whose painstaking hands the Scroll came, was required to follow tradition and all the Rabbinic regulations in every detail of its production. The sofer had to be dedicated. He was expected to be a man of deep piety, no mere copyist employed for a fee. To emphasize that his calligraphic work in transcribing the sacred Hebrew text was but another form of religious worship, he had to wear a prayer shawl (tallit) and phylacteries (tefillin) when he sat at his task.
In the days of the Second Temple and down to the early Middle Ages, the writing was done on leather that had to be prepared from the hides of ritually clean animals. The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1948 in the Palestinian Cave of Qumran, were all written on leather. But some centuries after that, parchment made from the skin of ritually clean animals was substituted. (The sheets of parchment, equal in size, were sewed together with dried tendons.) As a preliminary to his copying the new Scroll from a correct model, the sofer proceeded to divide the empty parchment pages into squares, ruling his lines carefully with a stylus.
CAN WE DRIVE A CAR USING OUR BRAIN ON SHABBAT?
Jewish Techs April 8, 2011 by Rabbi Jason Miller
This article illustrates that that discussing the effect of modern technology
on basic Jewish concepts is not new.
The growth of AI will see a rapid increase in this dicussion.
Futurists and auto engineers are now discussing a sitting vehicle which is driven solely with brain activity. Yes, you read that correctly: brain activity. But can it be used on Shabbat when observant Jews refrain from electricity and traditional forms of transportation.
The Jerusalem Post reports, “This intriguing thought was discussed on Thursday by Rabbi Dr. Dror Fixler, an electrooptics engineer at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, who was one of the speakers at Thursday’s 18th Torah and Science Conference of the Jerusalem College of Technology, Yeshiva University in Israel and BIU… Fixler showed a recently released clip of a ‘proof of concept’ vehicle that has a person inside who merely thinks of how to maneuver it. The vehicle drives itself safely, turning corners, slowing down and giving more gas. While this is ‘not something one should do at home,’ the Autonomos company successfully tested the proof-of-concept car a few months ago, said the BIU engineer.”
So how does this contraption work? A special cap, worn by the operator, contains 16 sensors and trains the car’s computer by examining the human brain’s electromagnetic signals. The operator of the vehicle simply points to the left and the right, which teaches his movements to the computer without speaking. Once the vehicle is trained, it can maneuver itself.
“Fixler said that the issue of the brain thinking and action – which could or could not be approved by rabbis as permissible Shabbat activity – could raise halachic arguments. Even though the person does not take any physical action to manipulate and move the car, just thinking about it could be forbidden on Shabbat… Fixler noted that even without seeing something work such as a remote control it could be argued that the tool was under the user’s control without actually being observed as doing something; it is much more complicated if only the brain is in control.”
But is merely thinking about something an act that could be deemed a violation of the Sabbath laws in Judaism? There are thirty-nine categories of actions that are forbidden on Shabbat, but one has to actually engage in them to be culpable. It is forbidden for a Jewish farmer to plow his field on Saturday afternoon, but it is fine if he just thinks about plowing his field. The question of course is what happens if his thinking about plowing actually instructs his plow to do the work.
There are certainly those who would argue that riding in any moving vehicle on the Sabbath is a violation of Jewish law. However, in the case of the Amigo scooter or this futuristic contraption controlled by thinking the user is most likely going to be a disabled individual. In those cases, most authorities would likely issue a heter (religious exemption to the rule) so that individual could travel to the synagogue to be with the community on the Sabbath.
There are some very impressive scientific and technological inventions on the way that will further cause religious debate. These are innovations that our forebears could have never predicted generations ago. It will be interesting to see how these rulings take shape and to what extent the halachic decisors try to fully understand the technological advancements and their implications for our community.
When a Jewdroid Walks Into Shul (Part 1), Roger Price, September 28 2016 Judaism and Science
When a Jewdroid Walks Into Shul (Part 2), Roger Price,October 5. 2016 Judaism and Science
Biology and Genesis: are they Compatible or Irreconcilable?, David Haymer Friday, February 8, 2019, Judaism and Science
What Would it Mean for AI to Have a Soul, Brandon Ambrosino, 18 June 20118 BBC Future
The Golem and the Limits of Artifice, Charles T. Rubin, Summer 2013, The New Atlantis
The Spiritual Challenge of AI, Trans-Humanism, and the Post-Human World, Kabir Helminski | December 21, 2018 Tikkun
JUDAISM AND AI
(We are in the early stages of AI
This text and the videos are important as they start us talking)