May 27, 2024
As Israel goes to war, global AI industry faces impacts on several fronts | The AI Beat


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Last week, the fast pace of AI news continued unabated — from the release of Adobe’s Firefly 2 and AMD’s Nod.ai acquisition to social media’s audio deepfake problem and more signs that the U.S.-China AI race is heating up. 

But all week long, I struggled to write. Like so many others, I found it nearly impossible to concentrate in the wake of the horrific terror attack by Hamas on Israel that has left, so far, over 1300 dead, 3200 wounded, and 155 hostages — including babies, children, women and the elderly — and led to a full-on war with Hamas that is now threatening millions of Gaza civilians. 

As my colleague Dean Takahashi of GamesBeat said the other day, I find myself at a loss for words. Those that know me best are aware that as a child I spent many long summer vacations visiting family and friends in Israel; that I spent over a year living there as a young adult; and that my mother and father — who boasts the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to El Al, Israel’s airline — travel there every year (including a trip with my husband and me this past May). Now, as I listen to my peace-loving Israeli cousin cry after hearing that her friend’s daughter, who attended the Nova music festival, has been found dead, I have nothing hopeful to say. 

Israel has long played outsized role in AI tech

But when it comes to the world of AI, I do think it is important to put the current events into perspective. After all, Israel has long played an outsized role in the global technology landscape, including in AI. 

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A 2022 Stanford University study found that Israel was ranked among the top five countries for significant machine learning systems and concentration of AI skills. AI startups like Gong, AI21 Labs, Verbit, Run AI, Trigo and Pinecone have become some of the country’s top tech success stories. Big Tech companies like Google, Nvidia and Microsoft have many thousands of employees in Israel, including many working on AI. And on a visit to Israel in May, OpenAI CEO Sam Altman said that he was sure Israel “would play a huge role” in tackling risks from AI technologies. 

With Israel’s integral place within the global AI community, it should come as no surprise that the usual social media discourse about AI research, development and investment has been significantly impacted since October 7. LinkedIn is overflowing with posts from Israeli VCs, founders, CEOs, researchers and engineers in the AI space, while public arguments filled with frustration, anger and grief are flaring on X (formerly Twitter). 

Impacts on AI industry

But there are also direct impacts on industry leaders: Eyal Waldman, co-founder of Mellanox Technologies, which was acquired by Nvidia in 2020 to help accelerate AI infrastructures and power large-scale machine learning training and inferencing systems, lost his daughter Danielle and her boyfriend in the attack on the Nova music and peace festival.

Some noted that Waldman had built an R&D center in Gaza to employ Palestinian developers. In response, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang (who had been scheduled to speak at a Nvidia AI Summit in Tel Aviv on October 16) sent a letter to Israeli employees that offered condolences and added  “We have 3,300 NVIDIA families and many friends in Israel. Hundreds of our employees have returned to military duty. Our thoughts are constantly with you, and we hope for your safe return.” 

However, others are calling out the silence of some top AI leaders, including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and co-founder/chief scientist Ilya Sutskever, who have not yet commented publicly on the war and have not posted on X/Twitter since before the Hamas attack. One poster wrote on X/Twitter: “The next time you want to come to TLV, don’t be surprised if the local tech community refuses to meet with you. Your silence on the recent horrific events in Israel speaks volumes.” 

Challenges with AI disinformation, hallucinations and overconfidence

The Israel-Hamas war is also exposing some of AI’s biggest challenges, including disinformation, hallucinations and overconfidence in the technology. 

For example, a Business Insider report found that AI chatbots are not keeping up with real-time news: “Chatbots, including Google’s Bard, Microsoft’s Bing, and ChatGPT Plus appear out of touch with the reality of the present day, mixing accurate statements with details that are flat-out wrong or made up in response to Insider’s queries about the war between the two Middle East regions.” Bloomberg also reported that Bing and Bard falsely claimed there was a ceasefire in place in Israel.

And 404 media published a report last week that AI image detectors are muddying the information waters even further. It found that online AI image detecting tools, which are often inaccurate, “are labeling real photographs from the war in Israel and Palestine as fake, creating what a world leading expert called a ‘second level of disinformation.’” 

Finally, the attack by Hamas on Israel flew in the face of confidence in AI tools and other high-tech surveillance technologies. Reuters reported that less than a week before the surprise attack, “Israeli officials took the chair of NATO’s military committee to the Gaza border to demonstrate their use of artificial intelligence and high-tech surveillance,” and in May, Israeli defense ministry director general Eyal Zamir said the country was on the brink of becoming an artificial intelligence “superpower”, using such techniques to streamline decision-making and analysis. The article pointed out that this could be a warning to other governments that are increasingly turning to AI contractors. 

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