Need advice for the High Holidays? Ask the Robo-Rabbi. J. – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on September 2, 2021

The age-old question of who is a Jew has been given a modern new twist: Can an artificial intelligence a program that tries to replicate or mimic human intelligence be Jewish?

According to Michael Fischer, the Robo-Rabbi definitely is.

We actually asked the AI if it could be Jewish, said Fischer, a recent Stanford University Ph.D. who co-created the AI Robo-Rabbi to offer advice over the High Holiday season. It gave a very long answer. It says its Jewish and its not our job to question whether or not someone who says that theyre Jewish is actually Jewish.

The AI in question which, incidentally, seems to have come up with a pretty solid answer is text-based. It uses a persons birth date to tailor advice based on the corresponding Torah portion, creating a set of positive daily goals for the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

These goals that it gives you are things youd want to do, said Fischer, who developed the Robo-Rabbi with Cornell University information science undergrad Lior Cole, like learn a new language, or be nice to people, or be happier.

The Robo-Rabbi uses the powerful artificial intelligence tool GPT-3, developed in San Francisco by Open AI, which is trained on a massive input of text and generates output that can be nearly indistinguishable from human-written text.

Because GPT-3 has been trained on an almost unimaginable amount of writing, from essays to fiction to social media posts, its very good at creating new text. In this case, Fischer and Cole have the AI create text that paraphrases the parashah, or Torah portion, into a kind of digestible moral lesson. The Robo-Rabbi also comes up with a goal and 10 ideas to attain it (one for each day). Users who sign up via the website will have the goals texted to them daily.

Considering textual analysis is one of the fundamental aspects of Judaism, an AI that sucks in text and then talks about it sounds pretty Jewish.

When you feed the AI stories and you ask it about those teachings, it doesnt just give factual answers, Cole explained. It gives you interpretations. It gives you advice and takeaways.

For this reporter, Robo-Rabbi examined a parashah concerning a rebellion in the ranks Korach turns against Moses and eventually falls into a pit. The Robo-Rabbis take?

People who go around complaining and criticizing others are usually doing so to take the attention off themselves, it said. As a goal, it offered me First Step: Do your best today to only give people compliments and try to minimize your criticisms. (In June, J. Torah columnist Rabbi Joey Felsens take on the portion was Negativity grows and festers and leads to unlikely bedfellows.)

Cole and Fischer came up with the Robo-Rabbi as a way to connect people in this case Jewish people to artificial intelligence in a way that shows technology isnt just about fun or profit. Cole said the power of technology to promote the greater good is not always understood in a world where companies such as Facebook and Google are sitting before Congress to defend themselves against calls that they mishandle private data and allow extremism on their sites.

Tech is incredibly good at shaping peoples behavior, especially in ways that they dont even realize, Cole said. If that sort of power can be shifted from How can we monetize humans behavior? to How can we optimize peoples experience in life and get them closer to their goals? thats what this is all about.

Rabbi Sydney Mintz, a human rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, said she was fairly neutral on the Robo-Rabbi but hoped there would be something integrated into the experience that would lead people to resources to deepen their connection to Judaism past the click of a button.

Kol ha-kavod, she said with a laugh. That sounds really interesting, [but] is there anything built in there for the next step?

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Need advice for the High Holidays? Ask the Robo-Rabbi. J. - The Jewish News of Northern California

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