Critical Conversations: Artificial Intelligence

Critical Conversations artificial intelligence panelists: Dr. Dean P. Bell, Dr. Oren Etzioni, Ellen Goodman, Dr. David Zvi Kalman, and Dr. Orly Lobel.

Left to right: Dr. Dean P. Bell, Dr. Oren Etzioni, Ellen Goodman, Dr. David Zvi Kalman, and Dr. Orly Lobel.

Critical Conversations is an annual Spertus Institute program that brings together high-profile experts and activists to address the most critical issues of the day.

Our 2024 program brought together leaders in the fields of artificial intelligence, ethics, and Jewish thought to help us consider what this rapidly expanding new technology means for our future.

We invite you to view the video below.

Critical Conversations is generously funded by the late Eric Joss.

About the Issue

Moderated by Spertus Institute President and CEO Dr. Dean P. Bell, the 2024 Critical Conversations panelists explored the potentials and pitfalls of artificial intelligence, using Jewish ethics as a lens for discussion. (See panelists’ bios below.)

Experts delved into the profound implications of AI and discussed the need to embrace AI because of its potential benefits, such as medical use, while also installing protective guardrails.

One of Judaism’s core values is the sanctity of human life, said Dr. Oren Etzioni, an AI researcher and entrepreneur who now leads “If you save a single person’s life, it’s like you saved the whole world. AI has such potential to save lives,” he said. “If we can save lives in this way, it’s a moral imperative to engage in AI to take it further. We absolutely cannot lose sight of that.”

Utilized correctly, AI can augment human interaction, rather than replace it, said Dr. Orly Lobel, a tech policy scholar. “There’s research behind it if we design it right,” she said. “I think we need to talk about the costs of being overly reliant on AI, but also the risks of being overly fearful.”

Guardrails and Guidelines

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT run the risk of erasing complexities of thought, whereas hevruta-style Jewish learning (learning with a partner) is about engagement with differing viewpoints, said Ellen Goodman, an expert on information technology law. “We need to be very careful with generative models and with ChatGPT,” she said. “There’s a danger if we privilege frictionless, efficient consumption of information over engagement. It’s something we can manage, but, in these early days, I’m not sure we’ve been doing it so well.” Goodman emphasized the need for guidelines and guardrails, such as commandments for AI. “We could think of those as mitzvot for AI. There need to be moments of checking in.”

Dr. David Zvi Kalman, a scholar and entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology, religion, and art, compared questions of AI to stories in the Bible. “Much of the Bible is obsessed with the question of how to make sure human beings actually do the things that God told them to do. So I look at the Bible in the age of AI and have a little bit more sympathy for God and the difficulty of the problem faced by any being, whether they are omnipotent or otherwise, because it is so difficult to provide perfect instruction, even if you yourself are perfect.”

Goodman also mentioned the dangers of antisemitism, conspiracy theories, and deepfakes, which AI can augment. “We’re heading into very troubled waters,” she said. “The tendency of AI, given how much computing and data is necessary, is that it favors large aggregations of power, and that tends to favor autocratic control. Danger signs are flashing.”

AI Potential

Despite the perils, there is potential.

“I am an AI optimist,” Dr. Etzioni said. “The potential to increase our quality of life using these technologies is enormous. We have to remember how broad the technology is and how much good it can do if we make the choices to direct it that way.” Dr. Etzioni is working on developing a free nonpartisan tool, through, that uses AI to fight political deepfakes by analyzing video, images, and audio to assess whether they’re manipulated.

Dr. Bell asked about surprising uses of AI that could benefit the Jewish community. Dr. Etzioni spoke of using AI to talk to great Jewish scholars like Rashi and ask him modern questions, or to have Rashi have a dialogue with the Rambam or with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “The potential to make our tradition vibrant and accessible to young people and to bring it to modern topics is tremendous,” Dr. Etzioni said.

In closing the discussion, Dr. Bell noted the potential benefits of AI and the importance of Jewish thought, which helps analyze complex, nuanced issues. “The fate of humanity is in our hands in some ways, and so we have a lot of work to do,” he said, as he addressed the presenters. “But with thinkers and scholars like you, I feel pretty good about the future and how we think about it.”

Learn More

To learn more about this topic, see our list of suggested resources.


Dr. Oren Etzioni is an AI researcher and entrepreneur, who now leads — a nonprofit dedicated to fighting deepfakes in politics. Dr. Etzioni has founded several companies including Farecast, which was acquired by Microsoft. As a professor at the University of Washington, he has published over 200 technical papers on AI. He was the founding CEO of Allen Institute for AI (AI2), where he now serves as an advisor and technical director of the AI2 Incubator. He writes about AI for publications including The New York Times.

Ellen P. Goodman is an expert on information technology law, including AI and digital platform policy. She currently serves as the Florence Rogatz Visiting Professor of Law at Yale Law School, while continuing a stint as Senior Advisor for Algorithmic Justice at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the US Department of Commerce. Professor Goodman co-founded and co-directs the Rutgers Institute for Information Policy & Law. She is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers Law School.

Dr. David Zvi Kalman is a scholar, writer, and entrepreneur who works at the intersection of technology, religion, and art. He serves as a research fellow at institutions including the Shalom Hartman Institute. Widely published (and the founder of an independent publishing house), he writes regularly about AI.

Dr. Orly Lobel is a renowned tech policy scholar and the Warren Distinguished Professor of Law at University of San Diego. The Economist named her newest book, The Equality Machine, a best book of 2022. Dr. Lobel served on President Obama’s policy team, advised the FTC on tech policy, and, in 2023, keynoted the United Nations AI for Good Summit. She has been featured in publications including The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Harvard Business Review.

Since 1924, Spertus Institute has provided avenues to explore Jewish history, thought, and texts, both as an academic pursuit and as a catalyst for action. We believe Jewish learning is deeply relevant to the challenges we face today and to building a strong, compassionate, and vibrant future. Find out more at

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