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Dvar Torah - Ekev

We are constantly bombarded by news about AI. We are told that AI will soon be aware, that it will overtake our capabilities, and that it might develop a sense of self. It might even become possible to insert a human's identity into a machine powered by artificial intelligence so that humans might live on in that form. However, this is, in fact, not possible. To think that is a grave mistake illustrated by the Torah in this week's parsha. The book of Devarim is a lecture series that Moshe Rabbeinu gave the Children of Israel immediately before they entered the land. This week's speech centres on remembrance and forgetfulness. It features a constant reminder to remember our travails in the desert, ranging from how Hashem took us out of Egypt to how he sustained us on the journey to the land of Israel. In parallel, the Torah mentions a prohibition of forgetting these same journeys several times.

Why does this week's Parsha place such a strong emphasis on remembering? One reason is that memory forms a crucial part of identity. However, the specific remembrances here are carefully chosen, creating two distinct groups. One deals with Exodus from Egypt, and remembering them parallels the more famous mitzvah to tell the story of the Exodus on Seder night. The second group deals with how Hashem sustained us in the desert and the many miracles he wrought for us there.

Rav Yaakov Medan explains that these two groups aim to teach very different lessons. The miracles of the Exodus build national confidence and solidarity. Remembering them helps us keep the spirit of Pesach alive throughout the year. These stories remind us that He will be there for us and help us in adversity. The miracles of the desert emphasise our reliance on Hashem for everything in our lives. We could do nothing without Him. They don't build confidence. Instead, they create a sense of dependence. We might think of ourselves as great, powerful, and capable. But those gifts come from another. The miracles of the desert emphasise the themes of Sukkot. The correct path is to keep both ideas in mind, even if they are somewhat contradictory.

We are the sum of our choices, experiences, memories, preferences, and character. AI may come to be human-like in its capabilities. However, it will never build itself over time as we do. A computer's "thoughts" are a series of electrical impulses that disappear when turned off. Our identity transcends time, making us so much more than what we are now thinking. However, this imposes a unique burden upon us: building that identity per the Torah's intent. By keeping in mind both our radical dependence and the promise that Hashem will preserve us, we can be sure that we are building our experiences and proclivities, and so our identity correctly over time.

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