Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day

I do feel a little bad about how unsolemn Memorial Day is for most Americans.

Someone sent me this image and I thought it was really appropriate.

There are plenty of crazy things going on in America now, but Americans should never lose sight of how grateful they are to live in this country.

Though the day wasn't solemn, I did make it count. Spent some time with Nadia on the softball field working on her mechanics. 

It was a nice father-daughter moment on a day made possible by the sacrifices of others.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

What the Torah Can Teach Us About Morality in a World of Omnipresent Artificial Intelligence

Note: Gave this dvar torah (sermon) on May 11, 2019.

Parsha: Kedoshim

There are 300,000 children in America afflicted with a horrible, incurable disease known as pediatric arthritis.  There are 7 types of pediatric arthritis, each with a different treatment plan.  The challenge for doctors is to figure out which type the child has.

The traditional method requires a systematic effort to test for type 1, then 2, and so on. It was time consuming, expensive, and worst of all, the kid is in pain the whole time.

Today, a new type of artificial intelligence can tell doctors which type of arthritis a child has based on which joints are in pain in his or her body at a given time.  It cuts time, cost, and pain.

At the same time, there are now AI-based facial applications in China that can recognize 3 billion faces per second.

So, and I am not making this up, if you decide you want to jaywalk, your face will be identified when you do and a message about your anti-social behavior will get sent to your family members, your boss, the local police precinct, and put out on Sina Weibo, the equivalent to Twitter in China. 

Oh…and your social credit score will get dinged.  Last year, 12 million riders were refused entry to planes and trains in China because their social credit score was too low.

What I want to talk about today is the idea of intelligence.

Specifically, how our parsha, Kedoshim, helps us understand the unique role that humans will need to play in a world of omnipresent AI particularly because it has no emotion nor morals.

The root of the word “Intelligence” is Intelligere, which is Latin for “to discern.”

It’s not about the knowledge you have, but how you use it.

Kedoshim provides us the playbook for discerning.

It helps us understand that people are not merely to be viewed as pieces of data. Our behaviors are not wholly predictable. Nor should we all be treated in similar ways. 

The emphasis of Kedoshim is very much the opposite of AI.

Each and every person is made in the image of God and, thus, is a unique and special entity. We are each capable of making ourselves holy…which means that individuals can defy data science.

In fact, the very way that people become holy is through a commitment to separation from the behaviors of the larger group.

Marcus Jastrow’s first definition for the root Kuf, Daled, Shin, is “separation.” 

For example, the concept of “kiddushin” represents the act of separating out the one spouse you have chosen from all the rest. 

Indeed, if we read the mitzvot of the parsha through the lens of separation, we will notice a pattern:

·     Separating Shabbat from other days of the week
·     Separating Hashem from other gods
·     Separating kosher from non-kosher foods

..and so on.
Even better, the separation is, like good software code, something that is binary and can be tested as either “true” or “false.”

-      You either paid the workman his wages immediately, or you didn’t
-      You either coveted your neighbor’s wife, or you didn’t
-      You either avoided idol worship, or you didn’t.

Hashem tells us that we must be Kedoshim, “כי קדוש אני,” “Because I (God) am holy.”

Since God is incomparable and, since each of us has an element of Him in us, there is no human being on earth who is anything other than one-of-a-kind.

Applying the same A-I algorithm to entire populations, therefore, poses a direct challenge to the concept of Kedushah. 

But what about the guidance of "ואהבת לרעך כמוך? --- Love your friend as yourself?  Aren’t we commanded to apply the same standard for our friend as we would for ourselves? 

There’s a story about Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov.

He once saw two non-Jews in a bar.  The first drunken friend asked the other: “do you really love me?”

“Of course!” the second one answered. 

The first one replied: “how can you say you love me if you don’t know what I am lacking [in life?]”

Unless we dig deeper and discern the true & unique needs of another person, we can never fulfill the mitzvah of loving them or separating them out in a way that leads to kedushah. 

Artificial intelligence works in the exact opposite way, by looking for similar patterns across groups of people.  AI does not possess the emotional intelligence to account for the uniqueness of every individual.

This is the domain of humans, the only entities capable of being holy.

Kedoshim helps us differentiate and separate between the things we could do from the things we should do.  The Torah has contemplated a myriad of possible actions and outcomes, especially those prevailing in the surrounding Ancient Near East cultures.

We could sacrifice our children. We could worship idols. We could have prohibited sexual relations. 

Soon, we will be confronted with AI-enabled options about what we as a people can do, the likes of which we will have never encountered before. 

We will have autonomous vehicles that will have to make a decision between crashing into a telephone pole and injuring or killing the occupants of the car or swerving onto a sidewalk, injuring or killing pedestrians.

We could choose either option, but which should we choose?

We could choose to genetically modify our unborn children for hair color, eye color, and artistic or technical leanings…or even implant brains with direct connection to the Internet, creating a race of super-intelligent beings that get 1600 on their SATs at age 5 or earlier. Should we?

We could identify individuals with a propensity to commit sexual assault or theft. Should we?

How do we decide what is really Kadosh and what is not in a world of near infinite possible outcomes and scenarios?

Holiness is something that only humans can attain, which means it is left to us to discern when things should be separated out and when they should not be.

Perhaps the guy jaywalking in China did so because he saw an elderly woman across the street, and he wanted to perform CPR? Or perhaps there was a child in the street he wanted to save from an oncoming car?

As Artificial Intelligence touches ever more parts of our lives, we need to use our ability to discern and remember the human, who is made in God’s image, at the other end of the algorithm.

As Aristotle once said, “the virtue of justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”

Shabbat Shalom.