Throughout history, humanity has been fascinated by the concept of creating artificial beings that mimic or surpass human capabilities. One such tale that has captured the imaginations of people for […]
Throughout history, humanity has been fascinated by the concept of creating artificial beings that mimic or surpass human capabilities. One such tale that has captured the imaginations of people for centuries is that of the Golem of Prague. This legendary creature, crafted from clay and brought to life through mystical means, shares striking parallels with our modern-day pursuit of artificial intelligence (AI). In this blog post, we will explore the story of the Golem and its intriguing connection to AI, shedding light on the enduring human quest to breathe life into inanimate matter.
The Legend of the Golem:
The story of the Golem is one of the most famous stories in Jewish history. Tradition recounts that when persecutors rose up to attack us, the Maharal Yehudah Loew, chief rabbi of Prague 500 years ago, created the Golem, a manlike creature made from the dust of the earth, endowed with “life” by means of a secret Kabbalistic formula. Through the Golem, the Maharal brought about miracles for the protection of the Jews.
A famous story about the Golem deals with blood libels. Back then, the priest Taddeus, claimed that Jews secretly killed Christian children and used their blood for their Passover matzot. After Taddeus’ sermons, the Christian townspeople would pour out of church, seething with hatred for the Jews.
The Maharal, in desperation to save the Jews from slaughter, prayed for guidance. He received an answer at night in a vision. He was given 10 Hebrew letters, signifying words meaning “You will create a Golem, a thing of clay and destroy the wicked!”
The Maharal and two friends went to the Moldova River and began to shape the soft clay. They created a figure that resembled a man.
The first friend circled the Golem seven times while reciting certain holy letter combinations. The Golem began to glow. The second friend did the same thing, and the glow was replaced by a watery vapor. Then the Maharal also circled the Golem seven times and the three of them cried out, “And God blew the breath of life into his nostrils.” The Golem’s eyes then opened. The men discovered that the Golem had great strength and also the ability to disappear.
The Maharal told the Golem, “We created you with God’s help to protect the Jews against our enemies. You must obey my orders in everything! The Golem could see and hear but was mute. He nodded his head in agreement.
The Golem was not a monster, but rather a gentle soul that had no independent thought but was morally upright. He did exactly what he was told until he was told to stop by the Maharal. When asked to bring water to the kitchen, he continued to bring water until the kitchen flooded and was then told to stop. When he was told to catch fish, he fished all day, and when told that there were too many fish, he dumped the entire basket of them back into the lake.
One tale of the Golem dealt with a Jewish girl named Miriam, who went to Father Taddeus to become a Christian. As Pesach approached, Miriam packed her bags and raced out of her house.
At the same time, a Christian girl who worked for Miriam’s family quit and was missing. She had returned to her own village jobless. With that fact in mind, and having Miriam under his control, Taddeus forced Miriam to concoct a story that the Maharal and his friends had killed the missing girl for her blood, and they had a bottle of blood to make matzah. In addition, Miriam said that one of the men told her father that the girl who was missing would be replaced in a few days.
The next day, the Maharal, a friend and the Golem were arrested. Before the trial began, the Maharal, who was told in advance about Miriam’s fabrication, found a mute man in Prague who matched the Golem’s figure, sedated him, and put him in the Golem’s bed, so it looked like he was the Golem. The Maharal then told the real Golem to go to the girl’s village with a letter that said she would have her job back with a raise if she would return to Prague.
With the Golem’s special powers, the missing girl returned with him in the middle of the trial. The Maharal and his friend were then declared innocent, Miriam was sentenced to six years in prison for perjury, and Taddeus was discredited.
One Friday evening, Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem (Hebrew meaning for ‘name’), and feared that the Golem would desecrate the Sabbath. A different story tells of a golem that fell in love, and when rejected, became the violent monster seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually going on a murderous rampage.The rabbi then managed to pull the shem from his mouth and immobilize him in front of the synagogue, whereupon the golem fell in pieces.The Golem’s body was stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagogue,where it would be restored to life again if needed.
(A photo I took in 2019, showing the attic of the famous synagogue in Prague, where it is believed that the golem body, still exists)
Parallels with Artificial Intelligence:
While the Golem’s creation may seem rooted in mysticism and folklore, it echoes many themes and concerns that surround the development of artificial intelligence today.
Creation and Animation:
Just as the Golem was shaped from clay, scientists and engineers today are crafting intelligent machines using advanced algorithms and programming languages. While the medium may differ, both processes involve imbuing inanimate matter with capabilities that mirror or surpass human abilities.
Taken from the session above (click the screenshot, to go to that part of the session)
“short these are golems and gollums because in the Jewish folklore the idea of these inanimate objects that suddenly gain their sort of own capacities right an emerging capacities that you didn’t bake into the inanimate clay that you might have arranged right not saying that they’re agentic and doing their own things out in the world and have their own mind and have their own goals but that suddenly this inanimate thing has certain emergent capabilities so we’re just calling them Golem class AIS all right let me let’s give you some”
Purpose and Function:
One striking parallel lies in their purpose. The Golem was brought to life to safeguard the Jewish community, defending them against threats and ensuring their well-being. Likewise, artificial intelligence systems are developed to assist humans in various domains, such as healthcare, transportation, and communication, aiming to enhance productivity, accuracy, and convenience. Whether it’s protecting a community or aiding in complex decision-making, both the Golem and AI serve as powerful allies in addressing human needs and challenges.
Furthermore, both the Golem and AI exhibit elements of autonomy and learning. The Golem, according to folklore, was imbued with a certain level of autonomy, able to carry out tasks independently and respond to its creator’s commands. Similarly, modern AI systems possess the ability to learn from vast amounts of data, adapt to changing circumstances, and make informed decisions without constant human intervention. The Golem’s autonomy and AI’s learning capabilities underscore their potential to evolve and improve over time, becoming increasingly adept at fulfilling their intended rolesEthical Considerations:
The Golem’s tremendous power and potential for destruction raised moral questions about the responsibility of its creator and the impact of its actions. Likewise, the development of AI systems demands ethical considerations, such as ensuring transparency, fairness, and accountability. As AI becomes more pervasive in society, discussions surrounding its ethical implications, including privacy, bias, and the potential for misuse, echo the moral dilemmas surrounding the Golem in Jewish folklore Control and Autonomy:
The Golem’s control rested solely in the hands of its creator. Rabbi Loew could activate and deactivate the Golem as needed. Similarly, controlling the behavior and decisions of AI systems is a critical concern. Ensuring that AI remains under human control and aligns with ethical guidelines is an ongoing challenge for researchers and policymakers.
Lastly, both the Golem and AI evoke a sense of awe and wonder. The Golem, with its formidable presence and supernatural abilities, fascinated the people of Prague and captured their imaginations. Similarly, artificial intelligence elicits fascination and curiosity as it pushes the boundaries of human knowledge and capabilities. Whether it’s witnessing the Golem’s extraordinary feats or witnessing AI perform complex tasks like natural language processing or image recognition, both creations evoke a sense of marvel and invite contemplation about the limits of human ingenuity
A Kill Switch:
A golem is usually turned “on” by writing the Hebrew word for truth (אמת) on its forehead. It’s turned “off” by removing the first letter, which changes the word to read “death. (מת)”. Computer software has ways to either “Power Off” the hardware or even back-door that can force a shutdown.
The parallels between the Golem of Prague and artificial intelligence are remarkable. Their shared purpose, autonomy and learning abilities, ethical considerations, and capacity to inspire awe highlight the enduring human fascination with creating entities that resemble us and can assist us in navigating the complexities of life. Despite their historical and technological disparities, both the Golem and AI serve as reminders of humanity’s timeless quest to explore, understand, and harness the immense potential of our own creations
In order to prevent a similar ending of the Golem story, we need to ensure AI, has pre-defined boundaries, you can call them ‘Regulations’ or ‘Self-Imposed restrictions’, the terminology isn’t what’s important, as long as we get it done. collectively.