Industry leaders in artificial intelligence told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday that Israel will be key in the development of this game-changing technology. For Israel’s burgeoning high-tech sector, that was music to their ears. For the rabbis, less so.
It’s by now not unusual for the world’s top technology companies to seek Israel’s participation in groundbreaking research and development efforts. Intel, Nvidia, Microsoft, Apple and just about every other major tech firm operates an R&D center in the Jewish state.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman was in Israel this week and said that the Jewish state has a “huge role” to play in the artificial intelligence (AI) “revolution” that is transforming the world.
“There are two things I have observed that are particular about Israel: the first is talent density and the second is the relentlessness, drive, and ambition of Israeli entrepreneurs,” said Altman, who is Jewish, during an event at Tel Aviv University.
He echoed those sentiments in a phone call with Netanyahu, who then also rang Elon Musk to discuss the matter. Musk reportedly told the Israeli leader that Israel could be a “significant global player in the field.” Musk previously praised Israel as a high-tech “superpower.”
Shortly after, Netanyahu issued an official statement about urgently establishing a national artificial intelligence policy.
“We are at the dawn of a new era for humanity, an era of artificial intelligence. Things are changing at a dizzying pace and Israel must formulate a national policy on this issue,” he said.
“Just as we turned Israel into a global cyber power, we will also do so in artificial intelligence,” added the prime minister.
But Israel’s spiritual leaders aren’t so sure that’s a good idea.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Avraham Stav, a prominent young rabbi in Israel’s national religious movement, explained to the daily newspaper Israel Hayom why artificial intelligence, and ChatGPT in particular, is problematic for people of faith.
Rabbi Stav asked ChatGPT to write a sermon for him on the weekly Torah portion. It did so, and the text flowed well, but was shallow, very much befitting a modern culture lacking in attention and patience.
“The AI wrote a beautiful Torah sermon in which it talked about Jacob’s struggles and how they relate to our lives today. But it lacked a significant, deep and motivating point. It was superficial content in cellophane packaging,” said the rabbi, stressing that true teachers of the Bible are supposed to help others delve deeper into God’s mysteries.
He also noted that those behind artificial intelligence are companies whose primarily focus is profit. So they are going to make sure the system provides an answer, one way or another, even if it turns out to be false.
The problem there is that while humans have a certain degree of suspicion regarding anything told to them by another human, we tend to assume that any information provided by a computer or a machine is correct.
“A day will come when artificial intelligence will become the arbiter of truth,” he warned.
Last month, the rabbis of the New York-based Skver Hasidic movement went much further in their criticism and banned the use of OpenAI’s popular ChatGPT. “Artificial intelligence is open to all abominations, heresy and infidelity without limits,” they wrote in a Hebrew-language declaration. “It is possible that at this point, not everyone knows the magnitude and scope of the danger, but it has become clear to us in our souls that this thing will be a trap for all of us, young and old.”
Hebrew-language religious media reported extensively on the Skver movement’s decision.
A month earlier, Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Unger Shlita, head of the Bobav-45 Hasidic dynasty, was quoted as suggesting that AI would become like a god, and that instead of turning to the Creator, this new “intelligence” would draw even more people away from faith.
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