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Tales of the Lyfter Rebbe, May 15, 2019

Yesterday and today brought to me one interesting rider after another. It started with a rider who put his euphonium horn in my back seat. It turns out that he plays it with 35 other wind musicians of the Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band. I took him to his rehearsal and learned about the world of horn and tuba players.  It turned out that he also had played with a Klezmer band. The word sedentary signifies that the band only plays sitting down as opposed to a marching band. The band gives about 12 concerts a year at various public ceremonies and events.  Sounds fun!

The next morning I picked up a passenger who was going to visit her parents in Southern Oregon.  She told me that had recently moved there from Paradise, California where she had grown up.  Fortunately, her parents were not in town when the fire came through in 2018, but dozens of people died in the fire which is now considered the worst conflagration in the history of California (so far). The family home burned down as well as most of the town.   My passenger vividly remembers seeing videos of people she knew from grade school fleeing the fire. She described the trauma of watching her hometown burn down on the television set. What a trauma? 

I wished her well and hoped that she found her parents in good spirits.

My next passenger was a visitor to Seattle who had been on a panel the night before on the topic of the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.  He was a professor at an Eastern University.  I was taking him to the airport so we had a longer time to talk. He shared with me that the rise of Artificial Intelligence has been rapid, but most people don't understand it or it's implications.  The issue that he was concerned about centered on the ability of democratic governments to limit and regulate applications of AI. He shared with me how China was using AI to create "a surveillance state". 

Because of his interest in ethics and AI, he finds himself in the midst of an historical moment when AI is emerging. Can he slow it down to allow for a full ethical deliberation for citizens and government? Can AI be deployed in a way that protects our freedoms and preserves the primacy of human relationships?  

Another passenger I picked up that morning was from Mumbai, India. When he discovered I was a Rabbi, he was surprised to discover in our conversation that there were Jews in India. In fact there are currently 5,000 Jews in Mumbai. He wanted to know more of the history of the Jews of India and I shared with him what I knew. The conversation veered into the problem of religious extremism.  I asked him whether he was an optimist or a pessimist about the future of the world.  He told me he was a realist, which meant he was a pessimist. Then I dropped him off at Microsoft. 

Driving a Lyft continues to expose me to wide range of people and personalities. My role is to be curious, to ask questions, to learn, and sometimes to comfort.  What a blessing it is to experience humanity's many hues, one person at a time.   

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg