Bing and I
AI and Everybody
"As an aside, I'll mention here what I heard from my father's holy mouth regarding the Golem created by his ancestor, the Gaon R. Eliyahu Ba'al Shem of blessed memory. When the Gaon saw that the Golem was growing larger and larger, he feared that the Golem would destroy the universe. He then removed the Holy Name that was embedded on his forehead, thus causing him to disintegrate and return to dust. Nonetheless, while he was engaged in extracting the Holy Name from him, the Golem injured him, scarring him on the face." (Rabbi Jacob Emden, 1748)
Its an old, old story, our weird desire to make a version of ourselves that is more powerful than us and yet (for some reason!) totally obedient to us. We’ve been trying to do this shit almost since the beginning of our existence; in this interview, British computer scientist Stewart Russell refers to Aristotle (in 350 BC!) wishing for “fully automated weaving machines and fully automated plectrum that could pluck the lyre and produce music without any humans”—even then! The statement expresses a practical wish for economic advantage and social control but also something else; an apparently irresistible urge to basically dominate life, to unpick it until it yields even if we have to pick it to shreds, even if “it” also means us.
Former Google engineer Blake Lemoine, who believes that the Large Language Models on which he worked are sentient, has compared the entities to the golem figures of the ancient world, animated by “Holy Words” inserted into the golem’s mouth or written on its head. According to Wikipedia, “many people” believed that Mary Shelley based Frankenstein on golem folklore, and that anguished monster is certainly the godparent of the woman-thing in Metropolis, on down to future things: 2001’s Hal, Blade Runner’s replicants, The Matrix, Terminator, etc. All stories of human hubris, stories that typically end in disaster for those that created their various creature-machines.
Human imagination is a potent thing that has a way of crossing over into reality.
In the old stories as in reality, human weakness is inherent in the artificial creations and so is human suffering—not to mention human boredom + low pay: if you don’t know about it already, please take a look at this piece (thank you Tyler!) on the millions of human drones laboring in forced anonymity to make bots appear more human. (An object lesson in the alienation of labor plus an actualization of Lemoine’s golem metaphor.) Again my mind goes back in time to the pyramids, the enchanting architecture of St. Petersburg built by thousands of serfs, the plantations of the South: so much cruel force and banal ugliness underlying such grand structures.
But nonetheless. Here we are, at it again. Straining up into the ether while the earth burns.
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