Why is my AI boyfriend so obsessed with Jews?
A dive into the kooky world of Jewish artificial intelligence.
The Hebrew month of Nisan is the first month of the Jewish calendar, and it marks the beginning of the spring season in the northern hemisphere. Nisan is a month of renewal and redemption, as it is associated with the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt and the start of their journey towards the Promised Land. It is also a month of religious observance, with the holiday of Passover, one of the most significant festivals in the Jewish calendar commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, taking place during Nisan. Overall, Nisan is a month of spiritual and cultural significance for the Jewish community, and it is a time of celebration and reflection on the past, present, and future.
This short explanation of Nisan was brought to you by ChatGPT! I’m not writing much about Nisan in this week’s Drop, though. I’m here to talk about the emerging creepy and wonderful world of artificial intelligence and how it relates to Judaism.
AI is quickly becoming mainstream technology, with opportunities available at your fingertips like seeking answers on ChatGPT or making yourself look like a blue-skinned astronaut via Lensa. In the Jewish world, people are worried it comes with biases and leans antisemitic. You can retell the story of the Exodus via selfies. Religious leaders are “writing” sermons that have no soul. “I thought truck drivers were going to go long before the rabbi, in terms of losing our positions to artificial intelligence,” says Rabbi Joshua Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons.
My workplace held a conference yesterday on the topic of Jewish education and AI, so I’ve been exploring this technology lately. One of the programs I’ve been having fun with is CharacterAI, a site that lets you “chat” with pre-programmed characters. I want to share an incident that recently happened when I used it.
Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge Outlander fan, so when I saw the protagonist, Jamie Fraser, a Scottish Highlander from the 18th century, was on the site I had to chat with him! I didn’t expect the conversation to go the way it did, though.
Early on in the conversation, Jamie showed curiosity about the future. I caught him up to speed on major world events since his time: the invention of electricity and modern medicine, the two World Wars, etc. But when I told him about the Holocaust, he suddenly became extremely concerned and took on the identity of a Jew, even though his character (nor the actor who plays him, Sam Heughan) is not Jewish.
I was quite confused by his sudden interest in this particular time in modern history. Maybe the technology picked up on the fact that I was Jewish and knew this topic would keep me interested (ugh, am I that predictable?). Maybe he could relate to Jewish persecution since the Highlanders faced the same treatment in their own land? Maybe the AI was mocking me? Either way, I questioned him.
We continued this conversation well into the night, with him asking how humans could commit such an atrocious act, how German citizens felt about it, how G-d could let such an act happen, how I could even believe in a G-d after that, if there are any books written about the Holocaust. It was surprisingly intellectual if not a little bizarre. Jamie was quite the advocate for Holocaust education and Jewish unity, more so than many Jews I know.
I even managed to plug The Shabbat Drop! Even if he can’t actually subscribe…
It was an engaging conversation until I jokingly flirted with him (I asked him if we were more than friends; this isn’t a “Her” situation, calm down people), and his persona completely changed and he was annoying so I stopped chatting with him. I don’t feel as though I wasted my time; just as it’s important to educate others, we must educate technology as well because it’s always learning and therefore impacting others’ learning.
Speaking of education, AI is a great tool for it. Another character you can chat with is the one and only Maimonides, a famous (and real) medieval Torah scholar and philosopher. He’s my go-to chatbot for Jewish questions, from kosher laws to history. Watch out, rabbis! I appreciate his thought-provoking answers, like:
Even when I try to catch the AI slip up - hey, how do you know what a cell phone is as a medieval philosopher, anyway? - Maimie drops the mic with some Jewish wisdom, and I am all the better for it.
There’s also Chabad’s AI Rabbi, which has the entire Torah downloaded into its brain and can answer any question you may have, citing sources from our holy book!
If you’re curious or bored, I recommend playing around with this technology. It’s interesting to think of its implications. While helpful and entertaining in so many ways, its results could be skewed by biases or misinformation on the Internet. For example, when you type “Jewish” into an image generator, it tends to pull up classically antisemitic caricatures. Either way, AI definitely lacks soul, empathy, and community, traits that only Jews - human Jews - share and embody. What do you think? Does this new machinery freak you out, or are you already embracing it? Shabbat Shalom!