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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 delt, 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 exhibit Justice as their determinative value? 

More so than Beauty, less so than Truth, Justice can be reduced to an algorithm. We call that algorithm ‘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. Thomas Aquinas, for example, says that secular law is normative… but only to the extent that it is consistent with a higher law, i.e., God’s law.  

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

Torah requires interpretation and application, by a competent Rabbi and by you! During the period of Judges, when God ruled Israel directly (through Torah), “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. (Judges 21: 25) Conscience is a reflection of Justice. 

Justice as Law is always subject to Justice as Value. Law is always subject to judicial review…and that review is carried out by Justice as Value. Justice is recursive! It is a 2nd order reflection on a 1st order algorithm (the law). The history of Judeo-Christianity 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) this dichotomy was further sharpened. 

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 come, 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. 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 his ‘sins’ that have triggered this dreadful series of events. Because they view Justice as an algorithm, they feel justified in assuming that Job’s misfortunes must be wages of his sin. 

Job will have none of it! He insists that he has committed no sin that remotely justifies his sufferings. He demands that God subject himself to the value of Justice. Job’s concept of Justice is more than tit-for-tat: a valid judgement must be based on the totality of circumstances, 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 rhetorical battles in the history of urban 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 cancelled. 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. Clearly, Ali knew his Job. 

Bookmakers at the trial of Job v. God 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 him with monsters (Behemoth and Leviathan); he compares him to ‘uninhabited grassland’. 

Job is cowed but not crushed; he stands his ground. In the end, seeing that he can’t intimidate Job and that Job has right on his side, God gives up. He admits that Job has been treated unfairly and he takes action designed to remedy the injustice: 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…well, then it is just a very expensive, albeit very useful, hunk of inanimate, unconscious silicon. Stay tuned! 


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