How much should we depend on a tool that could become the master?
By Rabbi Haviva Horvitz, Temple Beth Sholom, Middletown
Give me a topic and ask me to write an article or teach a course, and I will have no trouble. I enjoy doing the research and will happily share what I have learned and add my own thoughts and opinions.
However, ask me to write an article on anything I wish to convey…and I am stumped.
So, I did something I never thought I would ever do.
I asked Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot to write an appropriate article of approximately 750 words for the October edition of The Dayton Jewish Observer.
Within moments, I had before me an article of 788 words, which detailed the holidays of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. The article even referenced several congregations in the Dayton area for services and programs.
It was interesting, but it wasn’t me. In addition, by the time this article is being read, the first two holidays will be over for this year.
However, the experience had me concerned. Recently, I was having breakfast with a group of friends, and we were discussing AI and the powers we are giving to computers.
These programs are slowly learning from us and, what are currently useful research tools, can easily become something much greater, and possibly something dangerous.
We debated whose jobs were at risk of being taken over and I stated, rather smugly, that as a rabbi, my job needs a human touch. Now, I am not so sure. It was very easy – perhaps too easy — to have my computer write for me.
My first thoughts were with regard to the matter of ethics: Is it ethical to use an article or a sermon written by my computer?
According to Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot, my “AI-powered copilot for the web,” the matter of ethics depends on the purpose and context of the article.
I was given a short list of some possible ethical issues, which included plagiarism, misinformation, and privacy.
It occurred to me that in Judaism, when discussing sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, an example often used is quoting something and not giving the original author credit.
When I was looking for a specific story for one of my High Holiday sermons, I had asked Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot and was given a similar story, but it had a different ending.
When I asked who wrote that story, the computer program answered, “I did,” almost proudly, if that is possible. I realized then that plagiarism is going to be a concern.
Next, my focus turned to the recent writers’ strike. Again, I conferred with Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot and was informed that the “cause of the writers’ strike is a lack of agreement on a new contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.”
Three main issues in the strike were listed, including the use of artificial intelligence in the writing process. Like me, the writers are concerned that this wonderful tool might one day replace them; and that one day seems to be getting closer and closer.
As Rabbi Dan Wolpe posted on his Facebook page recently, “The irony of the OpenAI ChatGPT is that it will ultimately destroy the very intelligence and creativity that enable it to be created.”
As we have concluded the High Holiday season for 5784 and have begun the new year with a clean slate, perhaps this is a good time to question how much we want to depend on AI.
Are we capable of using this technology as a tool and not allow it to go any further?
In an article by Rabbi Yitzchak Zweig from April 23 found at Aish.com, it says “…humans have long been aware of the possibility of this coming to pass, and one would hope that measures are being taken to safeguard humanity. Hollywood has been warning us of the dangers of this technology for over 50 years (2001: A Space Odyssey springs to mind and, of course, there are many others like The Matrix and I, Robot).”
His article raises concerns about an AI-run world where decisions and actions are based on data analysis. The human touch would be lost. Rabbi Zweig continues: “This is similar to the difference between living in a world created by accident vs. living in a theocentric universe; a divinely created world that has intelligent design and is purpose driven. One of the main features of living in a world created by God is that life has sanctity and innate value. Most importantly, and a primary tenet of Jewish philosophy, is the core belief that God created the world with the sole purpose of benefiting mankind and that the Almighty seeks a relationship with man.”
So, does AI help our relationship with the Almighty or get in the way? Can AI make the mundane holy, as we try to do, or is it too robotic?
In the meantime, I wrote this article myself, and am happy with myself for doing that, even if it is a little too long and not perfect. Shanah Tovah!
Editor’s note: Here is the article Rabbi Horvitz had Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot write, prompting it to be appropriate for the October Dayton Jewish Observer:
October is a busy month for the Jewish community, as it marks the beginning of the new year and the observance of three major holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. These holidays are rich in traditions, rituals, and meanings, and they offer opportunities for reflection, repentance, joy, and gratitude. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of these holidays, as well as some ways to celebrate them in Dayton and beyond.
Rosh Hashanah: Rosh Hashanah, which means “head of the year” in Hebrew, is the Jewish New Year. It falls on the first two days of the month of Tishrei, which usually corresponds to September or October in the Gregorian calendar. According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world and the first human beings, Adam and Eve. It is also a day of judgment, when God reviews the deeds of each person and decides their fate for the coming year. Jews are encouraged to repent for their sins and seek forgiveness from God and others during this time. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with prayers, shofar blowing, festive meals, and sweet foods such as apples dipped in honey, symbolizing the hope for a sweet new year. In Dayton, there are several synagogues that offer services and programs for Rosh Hashanah, such as Temple Israel, Temple Beth Or, Beth Abraham Synagogue, and Beth Jacob Congregation. You can also join online or in-person events hosted by Chabad of Greater Dayton or Hillel Academy.
Yom Kippur: Yom Kippur, which means “day of atonement” in Hebrew, is the holiest day of the year for Jews. It falls on the tenth day of Tishrei, ten days after Rosh Hashanah. It is a day of fasting, prayer, confession, and forgiveness, when Jews seek to cleanse their souls and reconcile with God and their fellow human beings. According to tradition, it is on Yom Kippur that God seals the fate of each person for the coming year, so Jews try to make amends and ask for mercy before the final verdict. Yom Kippur is observed with a 25-hour fast from food and drink, as well as abstaining from other pleasures such as bathing, wearing leather shoes, and sexual relations. The fast begins at sunset on the eve of Yom Kippur and ends at nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur. The fast is broken with a light meal after the final prayer service. Yom Kippur is also marked by special religious services that include readings from the Torah, recitation of liturgical poems, confession of sins, and memorial prayers for the deceased. In Dayton, you can attend Yom Kippur services at any of the synagogues mentioned above or join online or in-person events organized by Chabad or Hillel Academy.
Sukkot: Sukkot, which means “booths” or “tabernacles” in Hebrew, is a seven-day festival that celebrates the harvest and commemorates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. It falls on the 15th to 21st days of Tishrei, five days after Yom Kippur. It is one of the three pilgrimage festivals when Jews were commanded to visit the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. Sukkot is celebrated by building and dwelling in temporary huts called sukkot (singular: sukkah), which represent the shelters that the Israelites used during their 40-year journey. The sukkah is decorated with fruits, vegetables, flowers, and other items, and it is customary to eat meals and sleep in it during the festival. Another ritual of Sukkot is taking the four species: a palm branch (lulav), a citron (etrog), three myrtle branches (hadassim), and two willow branches (aravot). These four plants are held together and waved in six directions: east, south, west, north, up, and down, symbolizing God’s presence everywhere. Sukkot is a time of joy and gratitude for God’s protection and provision. In Dayton, you can build your own sukkah or visit one at any of the synagogues or at Chabad or Hillel Academy. You can also participate in various activities such as Sukkah hops, pizza parties, concerts, and more.
Conclusion: October is a month of celebration and spirituality for the Jewish community, as we observe Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. These holidays remind us of our history, our values, and our relationship with God and each other. They also inspire us to look forward to the new year with hope, faith, and joy. We invite you to join us in celebrating these holidays and learning more about their meanings and traditions. You can find more information and resources on the websites of the Dayton Jewish Observer, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Dayton. We wish you a happy and healthy new year! Shana tova!