The Jews at the heart of the AI revolution

A panel discussion hosted by World Jewish Relief this week saw the two Susskind brothers and their father, Richard, share a stage for the first time


In the last year, much has been made of the AI arms race, and its potential effects on our lives.

And now Jewish organisations are joining the conversation.

Hosted by Emily Maitlis, World Jewish Relief hosted a panel discussion called AI: The Future of Humanity on Wednesday, involving Richard Susskind OBE, and his sons Daniel and Jamie, all academic leaders in the field of technology and its impact on the future.

The advent of the generative tech ChatGPT, which was released to the public just last November, has the capability to “create poems, write music, produce wonderful landscapes, even draft and write code itself.”

The underpinning technologies that drive this generative tech are growing at an “unfathomable” pace, Richard said. The performance and ability of neural net technology – the technology that underpins artificial intelligence – is doubling “every three and a half months.”

“This means that within six years, before the end of the decade, the performance of neural nets will have improved 300,000-fold,” Richard said. “Our lives will be changed by 2030 by technologies that have not yet been invented.”

Daniel Susskind says one of the “most fun” ways he uses ChatGPT is to create bedtime stories to tell his daughter.

Daniel said: “Until two or three years ago if you had asked most people what area is definitely out of reach for code, they’d have likely said creativity; doing something novel or original, and taking us by surprise. And yet that is what ChatGPT is so good at doing.”

He added: “This is the worst it’s only ever going to be. [The technology] is only going to get more sophisticated and more powerful.”

Richard and Daniel’s new book, The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts, predicts the decline of today’s professions. They hypothesise that experts like teachers, architects, doctors, accountants, consultants, and lawyers are antiquated and no longer affordable, and “increasingly powerful and capable digital systems” will completely change the way expertise is accessed.

“Our machines, systems and computers are becoming increasingly capable,” Richard said. “We’ve all become quite comfortable, I think, with machines that are used in the fields or in the factories, or in the back office for routine administrative work, but we are far less comfortable it transpires with machines that seem to take on white collar work.”

Daniel said: “Many of the things that are easiest to do with our hands, are hardest to automate, whereas conversely many of the things we find hardest to do with our heads are easiest to automate. It’s why we don’t have robotic hairdressers or gardeners yet, but we do have systems that can draft legal arguments, make medical diagnoses and design beautiful buildings.”

Richard believes AI will also change people’s access to legal justice.

“Forty-six per cent of people in the world have realistic access to lawyers and judges, even in this country, very few people could sensibly afford to engage in full scale litigation. It costs too much, it takes too long, it’s far too combative.

“We can make legal expertise, legal insight and problem solving easily available not as a one-to-one human consultation but in some kind of technology-based service.”

AI also has the capability to make education much more efficient and easier to access.

Daniel said: “We know from research that one-to-one tuition is incredibly effective. An average student who receives it will tend to outperform 95 per cent of students in a classroom setting, but it is of course entirely unaffordable. We can’t give everyone a human tutor. But what we can do through technology is give someone access to personalised learning systems which much like you do with a human tutor, tailors what and how is taught to the needs of a particular student.”

Jamie Susskind, who specialises in how AI will impact the political sphere, said “Incredibly powerful digital technologies have a kind of political power as well as a technological power.

“And those who own and control them, be they governments, be they individuals, be they corporations, have the capacity to make decisions about matters you or I would define as political.”

He added, “Our access to things like insurance, social credit, jobs, loans, housing, social security, these things are going to be determined increasingly by algorithmic systems, they already are in many places. That I see as political rather than technical.”

He later said: “Increasingly those who write code decide what we can and can’t do with our lives. As more and more our actions, our interactions, our transactions are mediated through digital technology, the people who write the rules that are embedded in those technologies write the rules by which the rest of us live.

“We used to think that the key things in politics were just the market, which just distributed stuff around, and the state, which made rules the rest of us had to follow. Our children and our grandchildren will live in a world where there is a third great source of power, and it is digital technology.”

Daniel said it was “unthinkable” that the “system of democracy we have just now will be the one we are using in a hundred, two hundred, five hundred years’ time.”

Attendees of the sold-out night were also updated and shown a presentation about World Jewish Relief's critical work around the world.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, WJR is estimated to have supported 253,176 people in 373 towns and cities in Ukraine, and 16,731 people in neighbouring Moldova and Poland.

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