News In Context

Innovation In Time Of War

As rockets wiz overhead 1,500 Israeli tech experts are working around the clock Inside the transformed Tel Aviv Expo Center to locate the more than 100 soldiers and civilians – including women and children – who have been kidnapped by the terrorist group Hamas during the war that began October 7.

Using artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge tools, Professor Karine Nahon, who during regular times leads the data, government, and democracy program at Reichman University in Jerusalem, and her hastily assembled team of volunteers are examining  videos and photos posted on social and traditional media, trying to mine clues that can be used to identify particular hostages. This makeshift war room is being run entirely by civilians, though they are sharing any intelligence they collect with both the army and the police, reports The Forward.

Archeologists have analyzed and mapped underground areas that could potentially serve as hiding spots for survivors — and the group has deployed rescue missions to see if people are hiding in those areas. They told the Forward they have located some of those who are missing, though would not share details.

Meanwhile, Nadav Zafrir, a former commander of Israel’s elite signals intelligence unit 8200 and now managing partner at the Team8 venture group, told the Financial Times that his company is working on using various technologies  to support the government in its efforts to locate Israeli hostages. “Our innovation cycle hasn’t stopped, we are researching different areas,” said Zafrir. “All of them are incredibly relevant for this time.”

In what has become the world’s premier example of military innovation, Israel’s 8200 intelligence unit is credited with playing a key role in developing Israel’s high-tech know-how, which has resulted in the country having the highest concentration of startups per capita in the world and consistently ranking as a global leader in innovation.

Over the years, Unit 8200 has turned out thousands of tech-savvy entrepreneurs who went on to found their own tech companies, occupy leading positions in established ones, or become venture capitalists

People trained in the unit have helped make Israel a leading force in cybersecurity, skills that are being tapped this week. Cyber aggression against Israel escalated October 11, reports The Wall Street Journal. Hackers infiltrated Israel’s smart billboards, posting pro-Hamas messages and images, according to cybersecurity company Check Point Software Technologies. Israelis are receiving threatening texts on their phones and WhatsApp messages from numbers in Yemen and Afghanistan, Check Point said. Opportunists are also sending crypto scams disguised as pro-Israel aid requests. Attempts to access Israel’s industrial systems have jumped since the start of the war. The activity, so far unsuccessful in penetrating the networks, has come from Iran, Syria and pro-Russia hacktivist group Killnet, Yossi Appleboum, chief executive of cyber company Sepio, told the Journal.

Data And AI Can Actually Win Wars

Although casualties are likely to be high in a war that involves urban street fighting, Israel’s tech strengths are expected to help in its battle against Hamas in multiple ways. Since its founding over 70 years ago the Israeli Defense Forces has built a significant array of groundbreaking technology, including the Iron Dome Defense System: As soon as a rocket is launched by the enemy, the radar station detects and tracks its course, and then immediately launches a missile to intercept and neutralize the enemy rocket before it causes damage to civilians or property, helping to limit the damage in the most recent missile attacks by Hamas. (To see a list of the IDF’s top ten inventions click here.)

Artificial intelligence is also an important part of Israel’s arsenal. Although the military has been using AI for some time, including during the May 2021 Gaza war, a new strategy for AI was approved in 2022.

“Data and AI can actually win wars… not only arms, physical jets and submarines,” Brig.-Gen. Aviad Dagan, director of the IDF’s Digital Transformation Administration, said in a  February 2022 interview with The Jerusalem Post.

A major recent advancement by the IDF has been digital networking in the Cloud between all forces, including headquarters, frontline command centers and troops in the field, but the military is starting a new digital advancement beyond the cloud, he said.

There still will be a Cloud network of interactions between headquarters and frontline units, but the military will now improve with “edge-data architecture that will enable an edge local course for speed and Cloud course for completeness,” Dagan told the Jerusalem Post. This essentially means the military will be building mini-Clouds, or networks, for each of its divisions and sometimes smaller subdivisions so they can process and receive data even faster than in the current network. For example, a wide variety of data points could put together sensory detection of an enemy, evaluate who the enemy was, check the various IDF options within range to respond, analyze how much fuel different drones or other units have remaining and then quickly dispatch the most ideal targeting order.

As Israel’s military seeks to include new technology into all aspects of what it does, the country’s Ministry of Defense has recognized the need to support smaller startup companies, especially those making dual-use technology that can be used for civil or defense applications.

“The IDF  need quick answers to their problems, so time-to-market must be fast,” Ministry of Defense Col. Nir Weingold, the head of the planning, economics and IT department at the MoD’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), told Breaking Defense.

As part of that effort, the country’s Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development in 2019 created a unique program called Innofense to be an an innovation center that helps partner startups with funding. Innofense collaborates with a network of venture capitalists and aids with scouting, exposure to commercial technology and “acceleration.” More than 40 companies have completed this program,

Young innovators are transforming the army in more ways than one. Some soldiers are using tools that exist in the civilian world to help inform commanders how best to solve problems relating to defense against threats are constantly evolving and changing, with new drones or other technology that Hamas or Hezbollah or other enemies might be using.

As one solider told the Jerusalem Post in March 2022: “There always will be new types of threats, and the way we develop, to deal with this, is in our quality and the speed at which we work and come forward to develop our defenses…. It is alongside what our enemies are doing. If someone challenges something, my mission is to stop them with my technological advances. That’s the game.”



China Proposes Blacklist Of Training Data For Generative AI Models

Reuters reports that China has published proposed security requirements for firms offering services powered by generative artificial intelligence, including a blacklist of sources that cannot be used to train AI models.The requirements were published on October 11 by the National Information Security Standardization Committee, which includes officials from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the police. he committee proposes conducting a security assessment of each body of content used to train public-facing generative AI models, with those containing “more than 5% of illegal and harmful information” to be blacklisted.Such information includes “advocating terrorism” or violence, as well as “overthrowing the socialist system”, “damaging the country’s image”, and “undermining national unity and social stability”. The draft rules also state that information censored on the Chinese internet should not be used to train models.Its publication comes just over a month after regulators allowed several Chinese tech firms, including search engine giant Baidu (9988.HK), to launch their generative AI-driven chatbots to the public.


Startup Develops The World’s First Beanless Expresso

Seattle-based startup Atomo unveiled the ‘world’s first beanless espresso’ this week at Gumption Coffee in New York. It is gearing up to open a facility in March 2024 that it says will be able to produce four million pounds of ground ‘coffee’ a year made from upcycled date pits (equivalent to around 80 million cups). Atomo cofounder and CEO Andy Kleitsch said the aim is to “show some early traction across hundreds of coffee shops and then use that momentum to raise additional funds to build a factory that can produce 40 million pounds a year.” The startup, is backed by $51.6 million from investors including S2G Ventures, AgFunder, and Horizons Ventures,


Japan Firms To Issue Digital Currency For Clean Energy Transaction

A group of Japanese firms will issue a digital currency by July 2024 for the transaction and settlement of clean energy certificates, cryptocurrency exchange DeCurret said on October 12. GMO Aozora Net Bank will issue the yen-based digital currency, called “DCJPY”, which will operate on a network launched by DeCurret.From next July, DCJPY is intended to be used by telecommunication firm Internet Initiative Japan (IIJ) for the settlement of clean energy certificates, which assign an “environmental value” to energy procured from non-fossil fuel sources.


OECD Agrees Treaty to Update The International Tax System For The Digital Age

The OECD announced progress on a global deal to make tech giants and other large multinationals pay more tax where they do business, after publishing an international treaty drafted by more than 130 countries, reports The Financial Times. The treaty, published on October 11, codifies the landmark deal that countries reached two years ago to update the international tax system for the digital age. “The release of this text . . . represents another significant step towards practical implementation of the October 2021 agreement,” said Manal Corwin, director at the OECD Centre for Tax Policy and Administration. If signed and ratified by enough countries, the text would lead to the redistribution of $200 billion worth of profits a year from multinationals to countries where sales are made. Some 143 countries are taking part in negotiations at the OECD.


Global Regulators Scramble To Address The Threat Of Fake News

 The EU and Elon Musk, owner of X (formerly Twitter) are in a row over the platform’s spreading of “illegal content and disinformation” in the wake of Hamas’s attacks on Israel. It follows another flashpoint earlier this week around a manipulated clip of US president Joe Biden on Facebook, giving new urgency to the debate around the regulation of social media in a new age of AI-enabled fakery, reports The Financial Times.

The posts that concerned the European Commission involved graphic imagery taken out of context, doctored photos and even footage of violent fighting taken from a video game. The complaints follow a dramatic overhaul of X under the ownership of Musk, a self-declared “free speech absolutist”, who has cut trust and safety staff and loosened moderation policies. Misinformation and propaganda tend to swell during periods of conflict, as highlighted by the surge at the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine across platforms including X, TikTok and Meta.

Elections, too, are ripe for disinformation campaigns: Meta’s Oversight Board is currently examining company guidelines following publication of the Biden video and the broader issue of “how manipulated media might impact elections in every corner of the world”. The US general election could be the biggest test yet of how social media platforms handle “deepfake” video and audio, writes the Finanicial Time’s U.S. national editor Edward Luce, who doubts whether we are ready “for the industrial scale flows of disinformation that are coming our way”.

Generative AI technologies — software that can create images, videos and text based on user prompts — have made such misinformation easier to create. But as groups such as Microsoft-backed OpenAI and Meta race to commercialize AI, the “guardrails” that prevent systems going awry are struggling to evolve in tandem, writes the FT. See also The Wall Street Journal’s article about how X (Twitter) is failing to control misinformation.

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About the author

Jennifer L. Schenker

Jennifer L. Schenker, an award-winning journalist, has been covering the global tech industry from Europe since 1985, working full-time, at various points in her career for the Wall Street Journal Europe, Time Magazine, International Herald Tribune, Red Herring and BusinessWeek. She is currently the editor-in-chief of The Innovator, an English-language global publication about the digital transformation of business. Jennifer was voted one of the 50 most inspiring women in technology in Europe in 2015 and 2016 and was named by Forbes Magazine in 2018 as one of the 30 women leaders disrupting tech in France. She has been a World Economic Forum Tech Pioneers judge for 20 years. She lives in Paris and has dual U.S. and French citizenship.