When science fiction writers of the last century imagined the development of infinitely wise supercomputers, their characters posed such questions of them as “Can entropy be reversed?”
Not even Isaac Asimov would have imagined that when people are faced with machines which, at least according to their promoters, demonstrate “artificial intelligence,” they would post the following challenge: “Explain nuclear fusion in Yeshivish,” that dialect of English that includes a very large dollop of Hebrew and Aramaic and Yiddish vocabulary and syntax.
And yet, here we are.
“You know, it’s when the atomisher particles, the hydrogen kind, they get shmushed together, like in a chavrusa. But this chavrusa is so shtark, so intense, it’s mamash like a shidduch made in shomayim,” is how the program known as GPT-4 put it, to quote a piece of the four-paragraph description of the fusion process posted by Twitter user @Hormeze. The paragraphs are notable not only for using the dialect, but for explaining the subatomic processes that fuel the sun using metaphors drawn from the life of a yeshiva student.
But don’t take the program’s fluency in Yeshivish as a sign that the program, like God as imagined by the talmudic rabbis, is itself a yeshiva student. GPT-4’s knowledge and abilities go far beyond that. As one response to Hormeze’s tweet noted, it can similarly handle tough tasks in deciphering Sanskrit, the ancient language of Indian sacred literature, which poses translation challenges similar to classical Hebrew’s lack of vowels and punctuation. “It simply amazed me,” Ravi Annaswamy said of how GPT-4 was able to process and translate an old Sanskrit text.
If it’s any comfort, we asked a version of GPT about the commonalities of Yeshivish and Sanskrit — and it stumbled, saying that “both languages have a long tradition of written literature” before, more accurately, admitting that Yeshivish “is a relatively new dialect of English that developed in Orthodox Jewish communities in the 20th century.”
Then again, Multivac, Asimov’s fictional supercomputer, didn’t reverse entropy in a day.
Oh, and one more thing: The headline on this piece is courtesy GPT.