Artificial Intelligence is taking the world by storm leaving some awestruck and others terrified. While many have begun to utilize the rapidly developing technology in a myriad of ways, among the many concerns some have, believe it or not, is a fear that some will start to literally worship AI as experts anticipate the birth of the “ChatGPT god,” a new religion.
Consider this: AI demonstrates a level of intelligence that goes well beyond the capability of any human. Its knowledge and processing speed appear limitless. It scours everything in cyberspace instantaneously to access all information and yields analysis and creativity, answers questions, composes music, writes poetry, generates art, and more. It doesn’t need sleep, has no appetite, is not distracted by temptations, and doesn’t suffer from pain.
Notable historian, author, and scholar Yuval Noah Harari has claimed that AI chatbots like ChatGPT are now capable of writing their own scriptures and starting sects and cults, which can evolve into religion. He, like many of the early investors in AI who were first to believe in its power and potential, are now calling for stricter regulations on AI.
Obviously, we know that chas v’shalom, AI is not a god, it isn’t a deity, and though increasingly difficult and unlikely, if we would universally disconnect from technology and withdraw from integrating AI into our appliances and applications, let alone our lives, it couldn’t impact or influence us or our destiny.
But what if, instead of being threatened by an AI god or religion, we can use it for inspiration in the relationship with the One and only true God, Hashem?
The Chafetz Chaim, R’ Yisrael Meir HaKohen, (Shem Olam, Volume I) writes that while technology adds efficiency, ease, and comfort to our lives, its ultimate purpose is to serve as a metaphor that can strengthen our Emunah, our faith in Hashem and in His hashgacha, His providence in the world and in our lives.
Writing a century ago, and relating to the new inventions of his time, the Chafetz Chaim says they can help us understand and apply the Mishna (Avos 2:1), “Contemplate three things and you will not come to make mistakes: Know what is above you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”
Earlier generations were stronger in their basic Emunah and didn’t need these illustrations to bolster their faith but in the last few hundred years, he writes, when our faith has weakened and our doubt has increased, Hashem sends us these amazing technologies, each designed to help us connect with another aspect of living with Emunah.
For example, the telescope enables us to understand that Hashem sees and observes everything we do here on Earth, even though He may be very far away. The phone enriches our belief in prayer. Just like we can talk in the phone on one side of the world and be heard on the other, Hashem hears all our prayers, even though there is a great distance for them to travel. Says the Chafetz Chaim, the photograph is a recorded picture of someone who may not even be aware they are being watched or that their picture is being taken. It lasts long after the person is gone. One day, we will appear before our Creator Who will review the recorded life we led that exists even after we are gone. The phonograph, which is the recording of a person’s voice that can be captured and played back later, is a metaphor for how one day we will be accountable for all the ways we used our speech inappropriately to gossip, criticize or slander.
If the Chafetz Chaim were alive, we could imagine him adding AI to the list of learning opportunities to strengthen our relationship with Hashem. Some struggle to believe in and have a relationship with a Power who is invisible, distant, unperceivable by our physical senses, and yet who supposedly knows about and is involved in the lives of all humanity, billions of people at once. How could He sustain the whole world, receive prayers and needs of countless, and yet know me, care about me, hear me and love me?
Enter AI, this phenomenal example of something man-made that can read and respond to billions of inquiries at once. AI programs like ChatGPT or Waze don’t just give generic answers or one-size-fits-all directions. Their responses are individualized, personalized, intended for the person they are addressing, helping navigate them to their distinct destination or answer their specific question or need.
If an app can track and direct millions or billions of people, all the more so can the Almighty know everything about every one of us including where we came from, where we are heading, what is the best way to get there and if we have gone off course. If a website can give us answers to our questions instantly, l’havdil, Hashem is listening and responding to all of our requests and inquiries.
The Ramban in his introduction to Iyov writes, “We must believe that God knows all individual creatures and the details of their lives.” Similarly, when speaking about the consequences for the Metzora, the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah #168) writes, “At the root of the precept lies the purpose to establish firmly in our spirits that the watchful care of the Eternal Lord is individual, over each and every one among human beings, and His eyes are open to observe all their ways.”
Chassidus teaches that in the month of Elul, “HaMelech BaSadeh, the King is in the field.” He is out of the palace, more accessible, available and approachable than any other time of the year. He is waiting for us to approach Him, talk to Him, surrender to Him, feel needed by Him, and receive His navigation and instructions for our lives.
Though each of us is only one of more than 8 billion people on earth, our choices matter and we matter. Never doubt that the Master of the Universe knows where you are, where you have come from, know that He is listening to you and responding and He is ready to help you navigate to where you are meant to go.