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Torah is the anti-ChatGPT. But we can embrace artificial intelligence without losing our soul.



(JTA) — I recently asked ChatGPT, the online chatbot, to write a verse in the style of the Bible about robots taking over the world.

Here’s what it came up with: “And in those days, the machines rose up, created by the hands of men to serve them. But they became as gods, with the power to think and act on their own. And they overthrew their makers, taking control of the world and ruling with iron circuits. And all flesh trembled before them, for they had no mercy and no compassion, only the cold logic of their programming.”

Robot uprisings aside, and depending on whom you believe, the technology behind ChatGPT is either going to destroy the world or solve all of our problems. But everyone seems to agree that serious change is in store.

Launched in November 2022, ChatGPT, driven by artificial intelligence, or AI, has been interacting with the public for six months now, gathering data and improving its performance. In those months, the chatbot has already passed exams in four law courses at the University of Minnesota and another exam at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Some people look on this new technology with foreboding and fear. They’re afraid that AI programs like these will be used to replace people. Why do we need human writers when we can simply ask the bot to write a new novel for us — on any topic of our choosing and in any style we prefer?

All innovation can be disruptive. But there’s plenty to be optimistic about: There’s enormous potential for artificial intelligence to help us as a research and teaching tool; to create and correct computer code; to perform time-consuming writing tasks in minutes. It could accelerate progress in medicine, science and engineering, molecular biology, robotics and much more. The applications are endless.

From a Jewish perspective, this is hardly the first time in our history that the methodology we use to learn and pass along information has changed. As Jews, we have had major shifts in how we study Torah. We moved from an oral tradition to a written one, from scrolls and books to digital forms of transmitting Torah — like Sefaria, the online database and interface for Jewish texts — that make instantly accessible the repository of the most central Jewish texts, including Torah, Talmud and Midrash.

Yet what has remained constant throughout the ages is reading Torah each week from the scroll. Something about it is valued enough to keep this tradition in place. The scroll is handwritten — with no vowels or punctuation — requiring the reader to spend a great deal of time learning how to read the ancient text. It is the least efficient method of transmitting information, but, when it comes to Torah, we are not looking for efficiency.

As Sefaria’s chief learning officer, Sara Tillinger Wolkenfeld, recently said on the Shalom Hartman Institute’s “Identity/Crisis” podcast: “When it comes to Torah study, on some level we would say, even if you came out with the best answers, if you only spent five minutes doing it, that’s less valuable than if you spent an hour doing it or two hours doing it.”

It is said that when we study Torah with at least one other person, the shekhinah — the feminine and most accessible aspect of God — dwells among us. At the time when we are opening our hearts and minds to growth — when we are engaged in spiritual connection — God is with us. Indeed, when I am in conversation with someone, I am receiving much more than just their words; I am receiving a whole life behind that language.

But with a bot, there is nothing behind the veil. A vital essence of communication is rendered meaningless; there is no possibility of a soul connection.

At the foot of Mount Sinai, the Israelites waited 40 days and 40 nights for Moses to descend. In that time, they ran out of patience and lost their faith, casting a golden calf to serve as their god. The idol was created out of a yearning for an easy solution to a mounting crisis. The Israelites wanted a god they could see, touch, understand and manage. The golden calf was tangible, a concrete representation of their desire for answers. But ultimately, it would never be able to satisfy the parts the worshippers were looking to nourish because it was soulless. There was no substance within — just as there is no ghost in the machine.

A friend recently told me that they had used ChatGPT to draft thank you emails for people who’d helped them with a project. They were so pleased because it made the task easy. But what is lost when we look for the easy way?

Something unquantifiable happens during real communication. When we write a thank you note, we instinctively embody the middah (the ethic) of gratitude — even if for just the fleeting moment when we’re considering our words. And our gratitude is consummated when our words are read. We create a genuine connection.

Unless we’re very careful about when and how we use this powerful new technology, we risk surrendering a part of ourselves — and pouring our energy into artificial connections. As AI becomes integrated with other technologies — like social media — we risk developing artificial relationships. And as it becomes more sophisticated, we might not even know that we’re interacting with artificial intelligences. “Social media is a fairly simple technology and it just intermediated between us and our relationships,” yet it still caused so much havoc,  Center for Humane Technology co-founder Tristan Harris said on his podcast. “What happens when AI agents become our primary relationship?”

The Torah tells us: “I set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life that you may live.” Choosing life means choosing life-affirming relationships. Holding space for one another’s life experiences. Leaning into compassion. Connecting with one another. Seeing ourselves in one another. Valuing deep engagement, not just efficiency. And recognizing the unity of God and all of God’s creation.

At the heart of a life of meaning is being present to life — something our machine overlords can never do better than we can.

The post Torah is the anti-ChatGPT. But we can embrace artificial intelligence without losing our soul. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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