Karen Reiss Medwed

The Blessings of A.I. In Our Lives

The sunset in shades of orange over the dark outline of the treetops and the calm waters of the bay, as taken by author.
The sunset in shades of orange over the dark outline of the treetops and the calm waters of the bay, as taken by author.

Thank you God for the wonders in our lives!  Daily we Jews express our appreciation to God for the wonders and awe of God’s creations.  We express gratitude for the blessings of our bodies, of our daily functions, of our food, of our leadership. Mishnah Brachot Chapter 9 provides an overview for the blessings we recite in awe of creations:  a place of miracles; lightning, mountains, rivers, great seas. Blessings for a new home, for new purchased items for the home. 

Similarly, when one built a new house or purchased new vessels, one recites: Blessed…Who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time. Mishnah Brachot 9:3.

We are commanded to look at our world and the awe of both the natural and the human creations in our midst and to express recognition and gratitude for their presence in our lives.  We do not take for granted the human capacity to build a home just as we do not take for granted the sacred capacity to build a mountain or bring on a sunset. And we view our responsibility to treat the mountains and the skyscrapers with gentle awareness and fierce protection as products of God’s universe, whether created in nature by God alone or co-created with God and humanity in our urban ecosystems.  We express our role as co-creators of this universe, as guardians of this universe and express our gratitude and our ongoing commitment to our role of co-creator, in our prayerful expression of thanks upon encountering these wonderments.  

It is time to express gratitude for the blessings and wonders of A.I, Artificial Intelligence, in our lives as well. 

There is no question that we are all using Artificial Intelligence, AI, on a regular basis in our daily lives.  We do so often without questioning that which is happening in front of us, and we often do not recognize AI as part of our process. More importantly, AI is playing a significant role across the realms of assistive technology, education, health, engineering and technology, in ways that make our world and our work accessible and inclusive of all humans.  AI affords our collective ability to remove more barriers, take down fences and open up new pathways of opportunity for all.  

And yet, despite the apparent ways AI enhances our work, our learning, our prayer, and our ability to increase our community engagement, we know that the original coding of AI and the ways some humans imagine employing AI, move down the spectrum from AI enhancing radical belonging to AI further promoting systemic racism and injustice.  Just as humans can create good, there is always the potential, b’yodim or b’lo yodim, for humans to create evil.  The Mishnah in Brachot reminds us of this concern, in Chapter 3 continuing and telling us:

The mishna articulates a general principle: One recites a blessing for the bad that befalls him just as he does for the good. In other words, one recites the appropriate blessing for the trouble that he is experiencing at present despite the fact that it may conceal some positive element in the future. Similarly, one must recite a blessing for the good that befalls him just as for the bad. (Sefaria, ibd)

As co-creators of this Universe with the Sacred Oneness, we are all responsible and liable for the end results. It is not AI that we must fear, it is the responsible, or irresponsible programmers, company owners and creators of tools, who hold the human capacity and responsibility to employ the tools in ways that advance the goodness in our world.  It is our responsibility to select what tools of AI we use, just as Jews select how we designate our tzedakah, our charitable giving, or how we determine what food we eat, our kashrut.  

In the weekly Torah reading, the Parasha of Matot-Masei, in Numbers chapter 33, we find the Jewish people with Moses, about to cross the Jordan River, to enter the Land of Israel. But the tribes of Reuven and Gad approach Moses, asking for special compensation to stay on this other side of the bank, and set up their tribal homes there.  For this, they are rebuked.  Why?  The commentators have very different perspectives, but it is clear that for some Reuven and Gad were hoping to stay behind and not move forward in step with the other tribes facing what loomed in front of them.  Do not stay behind and leaders, do not allow some of your tribe to linger behind.  Find ways to motivate, to entreat, to beseech and to compel your tribe to continue moving forward, facing the unknown together. Moses did not know what would happen upon entering the Land of Israel.  What Moses knew is that the blessings outweighed the immediate possible obstacles or hardships.  The promise of co-creating with God was the promise of hope, opportunity and possibility. 

AI is an integrated way to enhance the sacred world we are co-creating with Adonai: even writing this blog, AI is offering suggestions on ways to complete my sentence, and before I can even hit Save, AI is at the ready to edit my terrible grammatical errors. Seeking a logo or a suitable picture to grab attention for this piece, also AI-driven. And if I were to present this as a ppt, I am sure that AI would offer multiple designs for my slides all better than the blank page to which I might otherwise default. More importantly, AI will read this work for the hard of seeing and will transcribe my words for the hard of hearing.  It will increase font size, translate to other languages and make my words, my thinking, my communication, accessible to many more audiences than I would be able to reach were I sitting solo in my kitchen composing this blog. 

That promise of co-creating with God bestowed on our ancestors, of which we are reminded in Matot-Masei, and which the Mishnahy of Brachot cautions and celebrates – continues to hold hope, opportunity and possibility. It is on us to use and celebrate the Gift of AI in all the best ways.  

 Thank you Adonai for the blessing of AI – thank you for the blessing of humanity who can create AI with the limits and prescriptions of a equitable and just society and use AI to advance all humans in radical inclusion in ways that will enhance the sacred in our world.  May humanity learn from the lessons of our ancestors and use our gifts for goodness in our world. 

About the Author
Rabbi Karen G Reiss Medwed, Ph.D. is Teaching Professor Emerita at Northeastern University. The the only certified practicing female identifying mesadder gittin in the Conservative movement, she is an appointed member of the Joint Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly, a member of the CJLS and a member of the Rabbinical Assembly executive council.
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