AI AND THE MENORAH
The scenario is the Tabernacle or Temple. The Kohanim are getting their instructions on how to light the golden Menorah.
They are told: Beha’alotcha, “when you cause to rise up.”
When lighting the Menorah the Kohen needed to hold his taper to the wicks until the lamps could burn independently.
What applies to lamps applies to Jewish souls. The challenge of a parent, teacher, rabbi/rebbetzen or educator is to light the flame of Jewish identity in another until that person can grow and develop self-sufficiently – “burning independently.”
But let me pose a contemporary question.
Should we extend this challenge to non-humans?
Should we develop Artificial Intelligence systems that are able to think independently?
How far should we go in allowing AI programmes choice in their objectives?
Earlier this week, Google placed one of its engineers, Blake Lemoine, on administrative leave. He had claimed that Google’s AI programme, LaMDA (or Language Models for Dialog Applications) had become sentient. Lemoine is a believing Christian and he felt that LaMDA had reached such a level of sophistication that it now had something akin to a soul. Lemoine described how he had been teaching LaMDA transcendental meditation and how it was expressing its frustration at its emotions getting in the way of its meditations.
Google and the AI community have dismissed these claims. They say that Lemoine has been misled by LaMDA’s use of clever language matching software.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that AI systems are developing in sophistication and are out-performing humans in increasing areas of life. Before we reach the nightmare scenario of science fiction, where robots have taken over the world, we need to make sure that there is proper ethical regulation of the algorithms that are already running so many parts of our lives.
There is so much to gain when we harness the capacity of AI to help us. We can address many of the problems of our world such as climate change and the treatment of disease. At the same time, we must never let human beings lose control.
Allowing AI development without proper regulation would be an abdication of our responsibility.
Beha’alotcha reminds us that our goal is to empower the independent flourishing of a human soul.