Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Judaism in the Information Age

Judaism in the
Information Age

I've always identified as a Jew. I'm an active member of Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. I'm on its Board of Trustees. Denise and I attend services somewhat regularly. I've presented at several Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) conferences and at its college in New York.

I'm Jewish primarily for 2 reasons. First is to honor my parents who survived the Holocaust. Second is that I greatly appreciate that it is a religion that values questions more than answers. Judaism has been a moral compass for me. My favorite part of services has always been sermons that brings wisdom of the ages to help understand today's problems. I've always appreciated that Judaism provided a framework to think about why we are alive and what's important about being alive.

The last few years, I've been increasingly disappointed that Judaism, or any religion I know, is not helping us better prepare for tomorrow. Judaism and our mores are not keeping up with the ever-increasing pace that our scientists and technologists are moving.

We are rapidly moving out of the Industrial Age and into the Information Age. In this new age, artificial intelligence, (AI) will enable robots to perform tasks much more effectively and efficiently than humans. Gene manipulation will enable many diseases to be eliminated. We will be able to prolong life, and perhaps eliminate death. We will undoubtedly be able to create life – life that perhaps has thousands of times the intelligence of any humans to date. Scientists predict this could all happen within the next 50 years. Scientists also predict that as these super human beings, aka homo deus, become omnipresent, our species, homo sapiens, will go extinct.

While I have no reason to doubt that super humans will soon be among us, I find it strange to think that we might go extinct. When human beings evolved, plants and animals did not go extinct. More importantly, Judaism and most religions have always proposed that there is a super human known as God, or Higher Power, or Nature, etc. If homo deus have some of the characteristics we attribute to God, how might our relationship to God change? How might prayers change? Would what we pray for change? Do we really want to cure all diseases? Do we really want to live forever? Do we want and can we still have free will? What implications do any of these questions have on the way we live today? Are there regulations and/or conversations we should be having that might better prepare us for tomorrow? Can we affect how we evolve?

These are the types of questions Judaism and other religions should be tackling. Scientific and technological advances are inevitable. They will happen with ever-increasing speed. They need a moral compass guiding them.