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One-Way Love

Friday, 18 February, 2011 - 1:00 pm

This week’s news that the IBM supercomputer named Watson has beaten two Jeopardy champions in a three-night marathon has ushered in a new era in computing where machines will increasingly be able to learn and understand what humans are really asking them for. As a New York times blog states, this is a significant step because the show employs “format and clues that rely on subtle meanings, puns, and riddles; something humans excel at and computers do not.”

So, should we kiss our own brains goodbye? Are we soon to be dominated by computer overlords?

I am reminded of the excitement when virtual pets became… reality. If you are allergic to cats, no problem. Just sign up for a digital cat and you can enjoy all the responsibilities and companionship of a real-life pet.

But can a virtual pet replace a real one? Can a computer replace a human mind?

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A great Chassidic Rebbe once commented that people do not love money -- because money does not love people, as we see that it can suddenly disappear.  Rather people lust and chase after money. This is why money never satisfies he who chases it.

In order to love something that “something” must be able to love us back. One of the most frustrating endeavors is to love someone or something that refuses to be loved and love us in return.

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When the Jewish people worshipped the Golden Calf, as recorded in this week’s Torah portion, they made a grave mistake. Many commentaries focus on the nature of their error and sin. Their mistake, it is explained, stemmed from a terrible void and a desperate thirst for leadership when they assumed that Moshe was not returning. Truthfully, living in a different culture, I cannot relate to the temptation of idolatry. But I can understand the temptation for gold and silver.

Maybe the story of the Golden Calf does have an eternal message, one that twenty-first century Jews can relate to.

The ancient Jews threw their lot in with gold and silver – something that they can profess to honor, love and worship. The harsh reality is that in order to truly love, we need the capacity for a two-way relationship. Virtual pets can help us learn responsibility. They can even mimic the behaviors of love and care; but ultimately only a live creature can display emotion.

Only the true Source of Life can offer a bilateral divine relationship.

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