A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Golem

Thanks to R, who sent me a great article on Professor Henry Makram's Blue Brain project to create consciousness from a computer. You can read it here.

The obvious point of reference for thinking about the meaning of artificial consciousness from a Jewish perspective is the golem. These legendary early animated non-human beings were imagined in the talmud. Significantly, they could be created only by righteous and learned rabbis. This introduces a measure of control over the animated being. Still, though, the golems that were created could wreak havoc. The presence of the world "emet" (truth) on their foreheads is significant for two reasons: one, it suggests that the being is subject to the normal laws of reality (this is my reading of this part of the legend) as we know them. Second, when the first letter of the word emet is erased, it becomes "met" (dead), and the being dies.

A good article on Golems here, Wikipedia entry here.

My tiny brain is not equipped to deal with the Jewish or ethical significance of this now real prospect. I'm going to do some reading on this over the next few months.


  1. Howdy,

    I've been in the computer biz since 1962. Since 1972, supercomputers have been gaining about 3 orders of magnitude for floating point operations per second (flops) every decade: megaflops, gigaflops, teraflops, and now they are working on petaflops. That's 10 to the 15th power.

    The human brain contains about a trillion neurons, each with about a thousand interconnects to other neurons. That's about 10 to the 15th power of neural interconnects.

    Assuming that supercomputers continue to gain three orders of magnitude of flops for the next few decades, they will have plenty of flops to model a single neural interconnect.

    Like I've said before, it's not a matter of "if", only "when". Once a sufficiently high level of interconnects becomes active, will mind, consciousness, and thought emerge? Will it have a soul? We're going to find out.

    Cheers, Roger.....

  2. If consciousness (nefesh?) is an inevitable emergent characteristic of complexity, then our essence is revealed as a pattern that stands outside of time. How appropriate that our celebration of creation, shabbat, also exists outside of time.

  3. Thoughts on Artificial Intelligence and even Artificial Consciousness
    MFK Says
    Consciousness can only be simulated by time or other simulated events occurring around the computer “golem.” It is not true life or consciousness. Adonai is the only giver of life and the various degrees of consciousness. The number of neurons in a person’s brain has little to do with the person’s limits compared to a computer “golem.”
    The person, whether he/she has one active brain neuron or a trillion active brain neurons, still has a finite limit. If a person is a believer and attempts to live according to the Law, Statutes and Decrees of Adonai, and if his/her motives are of peace and love, he/she can access the infinite mind of Adonai’s knowledge and power to improve his/her life.
    The fact that the computer “golem” makes fewer mistakes than most people, and even those who access the infallible mind of Adonai, does not reflect on Adonai, but on the person, even those seeking Him.