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AI, Justice, and Job

David Cowles

Sep 7, 2023

“Can a Bot go beyond its programming and our inputs to devise unique solutions to novel problems - solutions that exhibit Justice as their determinative Value?” 

Our Fall Issue of Aletheia Today Magazine, our ‘AI Issue’ released 9/1/23, included an article titled, “Do Bots Know Beauty?

In that essay, we proposed that there are (at least) three transcendent values: Beauty, Truth, and Justice. We dealt, hopefully to your satisfaction, with Beauty and Truth, but we deliberately left Justice for another day (and that day is today). 

Can a Bot be Just? This question has two parts: Can what we mean by ‘justice’ be reduced to an algorithm? Or if not, can a Bot go beyond its programming and our inputs to devise unique solutions to novel problems - solutions that manifest Justice as their determinative Value? 

More so than Beauty, less so than Truth, Justice can be reduced to an algorithm. We call that algorithm ‘the law’; but then we criticize anyone who blindly follows it. We say they’re being overly legalistic.  

Like Solomon, we instinctively know that Justice is more than a legal code, no matter how well-intentioned or expertly drawn it may be. Justice is rooted in the ineffable. Aquinas, for example, says that secular law is normative… but only to the extent that it is consistent with God’s law.  

Dial 611. Call up the specific mitzvah of Torah; they represent an early effort to codify – or program – Justice. Now add the 2-general mitzvah, aka the Great Commandment, a recognition that the law must always be interpreted and applied in the broader context of Justice per se.  

Even so, it would be a huge mistake to treat Torah as an algorithm. In all cases, it requires interpretation and application by a competent Rabbi (Midrashim, Talmud). Even more importantly, during the period of the Judges, when God ruled Israel directly (through Torah), “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. (Judges XX: SS) 

The justice of law is always mitigated by Justice as Value - justice as it is experienced and expressed in collective tradition and in personal conscience. More broadly, the history of Judeo-Christianity itself can be viewed as a dialectic of law and value.  

As Jewish theology evolved during the first millennium BCE, the migration of Torah from tablets of stone to hearts of flesh was a recurrent theme. When Christianity burst onto the scene (c. 30 CE) the dichotomy of law and value sharpened even further. 

Jesus said, “…Not an iota, not a jot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matthew 5: 18), but Paul wrote, “Now that faith (value) has some, we are no longer under the law.” (Galatians 3: 25) Of course, both are correct. The Christian project is the merger of Justice as Law with Justice as Value.  

But the dichotomy of Justice as Value vs. Justice as Law goes back much further than Jesus and Paul; it’s older than the Judges, and it’s even older than Moses himself. In fact, it goes all the way back to the story of Job, one of Western civilization’s oldest narratives. The version memorialized in the Biblical Book of Job could be aptly subtitled, Justice: Algorithm or Value?  

Refresher: Job, a just and prosperous man, suddenly hits a streak of ‘bad luck’ (to say the least): his family is wiped out, his wealth lost, his health destroyed. It is assumed, not without reason, that God is responsible for Job’s misfortunes. 

Unfortunately, Job is joined on his ‘dung hill’ by three so-called comforters, men of high standing who have traveled a great distance to commiserate with their colleague. These self-appointed divine surrogates defend the notion of Justice as Algorithm: they try to persuade Job that it is his ‘sins’ that have triggered this dreadful series of events.  

Job will have none of it. He insists that he has committed no sin remotely proportionate to his sufferings. Beyond that, Job contends that Justice is more than tit-for-tat, that it is a Value, not an Algorithm: judgement should be based on the totality, including subjective intent, not just on naked acts taken out-of-context.   

Our hero is so confident of his concept of Justice that he uses it to ‘call God out’ and what ensues is one of the fiercest battles in the history of playgrounds.  

Remember Ali-Forman, the Rumble in the Jungle? A Forman win was considered so certain that some of Ali’s handlers wanted the fight called off. Instead, Ali sat on the ropes for 7 rounds and then in the 8th stepped out from the shadows and knocked Forman out with a single 5 punch volley.  

Remember God-Job, the Rumble in the Desert? Same idea! Bystanders are offering 100-to-1 odds, and still the ‘Job line’ has no takers. Predictably, God shows up in a whirlwind calculated to terrify his accuser. For several chapters, God rants while Job whispers. God taunts Job for his comparative lack of accomplishments. He threatens Job with monsters, Behemoth and Leviathan. He puts Job on a par with ‘uninhabited grassland’. 

Job is cowed but not crushed; he stands his ground. In the end, seeing that he can’t intimidate Job, like all bullies, God gives up. He admits that he has been badly represented by his surrogates, and he concedes that Job has Justice on his side: Justice is a Value, not an Algorithm! 

So back to Bots. As with Beauty, if a Bot can reach this same conclusion (God’s) on its own, not relying solely on its programming or on our inputs, then that Bot may claim to be conscious...and I’ll support that claim. And if not…then it is just a very expensive, albeit very useful, hunk of inanimate, unconscious silicon. Stay tuned! 


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