The Torah teaches us to embrace AI’s potential

The space granted by technological advances will help us focus on our unique creativity


Artificial Intelligence Technology, OpenAI Conversation Automation

July 13, 2023 12:19

I recently interviewed Professor Hod Lipson, the director of Columbia University’s Creative Machines Lab, for the second series of my podcast, Humans Being. We spoke about artificial intelligence and its implications for our lives and future.

He admitted that any new technology potentially risks terrifying futures if it is used with ill intent. Even more so with one that so significantly affects our processing and productivity. But Professor Lipman emphatically believes that we must not put brakes on the development of AI because its potential benefits far outweigh its perils. He and other AI developers such as Marc Andreessen, believe that AI will continue to be a powerful force for good.

Other tech leaders, such as Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, have called for the progress under way in AI labs around the world to slow down. They have flagged the dangers that AI might pose to us should it gain a dangerous and unmanageable level of intelligence.

At the centre of this debate lies a philosophical question: what should human beings do in life? For millennia, we have developed ways to help simplify and make our mechanical tasks more efficient. Thus, we live more comfortable and pleasurable lives. This not only makes our lives easier, but it frees us to do more creative work. To be human is to be creative.

Unlike any other animal, we conceive ideas and possibilities and go through the processes to make them happen. We make real what is not yet real. What makes AI so different from any of our previous technologies is that it is a tool that takes our creativity far beyond what our own thinking has ever been capable of. Creation is the ability to recognise an unrealised or undetermined possibility and fill it with something of our own thinking and making. AI now helps us fill those gaps and go beyond. We have not, until now, created technologies to write our books or music for us, or to produce our paintings and sculptures. AI can and will do so.

This may be off-putting to many of us because it seems too clever, too lacking in humanity.
Would we be equally awestruck with AI producing something akin to Michelangelo’s David? Perhaps not, but only because we revere Michelangelo’s mind as well as his skill. We marvel not just at the sculpture, but at the human who created it.

We celebrate people such as Rembrandt, Tolkien, Valentino and Jobs not simply because they all conceived something new and beautiful but also because of the one human element that AI is missing: their consciousness.

The great artists did not simply think of something and bring it into being, they consciously knew how it would be experienced by other people. They knew what it would mean to them. There is a language of the human soul that can only be spoken from one soul to another.

What makes AI creation different to that of human creation? It’s simple. AI does not know and can never know, as we do, what another human perceives. It will develop at an exponential pace to serve us as a tool for our creativity and search for meaning. But it will not perceive, as it has no soul. So, as with all creativity, it can take positive and negative paths.

From a Jewish perspective, I believe we are right on track with the current trajectory. A prominent aspect of Jewish teaching is that we are meant to imitate God. Our sages (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 113b) interpret that to mean that we must be merciful as He is merciful and charitable as He is charitable. But the imitatio Dei — imitation of God — does not stop there. They teach (Midrash Tehillim, 116:10) that as God brings the dead to life and creates worlds, so should we. This simply highlights the scale of the fundamental creative spirit that we are meant to achieve.

Of course, being like God is dangerous and Torah teaches us that the primal human was sent away from the Garden of Eden because of that danger. However, as the story goes, the path of return to the Garden is not blocked, but guarded. We must take precaution in our advanced ability to create. But we must also not hamper it.

As time passes, human beings will be increasingly pressed to embrace their unique, creative nature and opt towards lives that are predominantly creative. Let us embrace that uniqueness. Let us use what God has given us, and us alone, to imitate Him and be merciful. To help our path back to the Garden. Everything else, as it should be, can be done by machines.

Joseph Dweck is the Senior Rabbi of the S&P Sephardi Community of the United Kingdom

July 13, 2023 12:19

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