As the interface between brain and machine moves from science fiction to
reality, rabbis will be debating whether a vehicle one merely sits in and drives
solely with brain activity can be used on Shabbat.
thought was discussed on Thursday by Rabbi Dr. Dror Fixler, an electrooptics
engineer at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, who was one of the speakers at
Thursday’s 18th Torah and Science Conference of the Jerusalem College of
Technology, Yeshiva University in Israel and BIU.
The all-day conference,
which attracted around 200 men and women, was hosted by JCT president Prof. Noah
Dana-Picard, a leading theoretical mathematician who heads the colleges for
religious young men and, separately, young women, who study engineering and
Fixler showed a recently released clip of a “proof of
concept” vehicle that has a person inside who merely thinks of how to maneuver
it. The vehicle drives itself safely, turning corners, slowing down and giving
more gas. While this is “not something one should do at home,” the Autonomos
company successfully tested the proof-of-concept car a few months ago, said the
The person wears a special cap with 16 sensors on the
surface that trains the car computer by examining the human brain’s
Merely by pointing to the left and the right,
the human is able to teach his movements to the computer without saying a word;
from them on, the vehicle could maneuver through an empty section of a Berlin
airfield with no problem except a short delay between thinking and the computer
carrying out the mental demands.
Fixler said that the issue of the brain
thinking and action – which could or could not be approved by rabbis as
permissible Shabbat activity – could raise halachic arguments. Even though the
person does not take any physical action to manipulate and move the car, just
thinking about it could be forbidden on Shabbat, he said.
But there are
those who could contend that just thinking does not constitute a “melacha” –
prohibited activity on Shabbat that was necessary for the construction of the
Tabernacle taken by the People of Israel through the desert after the Exodus
from Egypt. There are 39 such types of “work” and their subcategories that
cannot be performed on the Sabbath.
The discussion would discuss whether
an bionic artificial limb that is moved with brain pulses – which is much closer
to actual use than think-only cars – or a bionic eye that could enable the blind
see – could be used on Shabbat.
Fixler noted that even without seeing
something work such as a remote control it could be argued that the tool was
under the user’s control without actually being observed as doing something; it
is much more complicated if only the brain is in control, he said.
BIU engineer noted that these unbelievable developments are the accumulated
experience and knowledge of 40 years of brain science, but while bringing
improvements by serving society, they can also spark intense arguments among
rabbinic arbiters about when and if they can be used.