Critics slam draft national AI plan

Isaac Ben-Israel

"There is no need for another government body to coordinate AI matters."

Members of the Council for Higher Education Planning and Budget Committee, together with the Israel Innovation Authority and the Ministry of Finance Budget Department, are opposing some of the recommendations in the draft report by the committee for assessing progress in artificial intelligence (AI) reported early last week in "Globes."

Planning and Budget Committee chair Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, Innovation Authority chairman Dr. Ami Appelbaum, and Ministry of Finance deputy budget director Asaf Wassercug wrote a letter to assessment committee heads Maj. Gen. (res.) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel and Prof. Eviatar Matania setting forth their objections to several of the published recommendations. The three letter writers objected to both the recommendations themselves and the way decisions were made.

"We wish to draw your attention to the fact that as members of the steering committee for the national enterprise for safe intelligence systems (AI, U.B.), which you head, we were amazed to find out about the committee's recommendation through the media, before the draft report was sent to us, as per normal procedure, and before a comprehensive discussion of the recommendations was held by the steering committee meant to discuss those recommendations," the letter stated.

The steering committee is one of 15 subcommittees set up in October to discuss the needs and best policy concerning the various aspects of promoting AI, such as professional training, ethical use of the technology, computer infrastructure, national projects, etc. The purpose of the steering committee is to coordinate the various work committees' conclusions for submitting for government approval.

The letter of opposition argues against both the formation of the committee itself and against one of its conclusions - establishing an integration committee to coordinate the handling of the matter with all of the relevant parties, and which will operate under the auspices of the Prime Minister's Office. This model is the same as that of the National Cyber Bureau, which resulted from recommendations by similar committees early in the decade, following which the National Cyber Directorate was founded in the Prime Minister's Office.

"The basic question about the initiative - why government intervention of the proposed type is needed - has not yet been clarified and answered," the letter says. "This industry is booming in the private sector in Israel, and is attracting large resources to it at this time, including private investment, excellent personnel, inputs from international companies, etc. For example, there are already more than 2,000 startups in the field, and the projected total investment in these companies in 2019 is over $1 billion, and is continually increasing. The relevant government ministries responsible for promoting such matters are acting in a number of channels at this time, including the allocation of government budgets, in both the civilian and defense spheres."

Talking to "Globes," the plan's opponents criticized the idea of setting up such an integrative body. They explained, "The conclusion that an agency should be established to integrate all of the work of the various ministries is a great error. We already have an agency working on the matter, called The National Infrastructure Forum for Research and Development (TELEM), in which various government agencies work together, and it has already proven its ability to handle such matters, as it did in the promotion of quantum technologies."

The letter referred to the fact that the committee for promoting quantum technologies, headed by former Chief Scientist Orna Berry, has also completed its work, and is waiting for approval of its conclusions. The volume of government investment sought in quantum technologies is very modest in comparison with the amounts being requested for promotion of AI.

"The committee has representatives of higher education institutions; the Ministry of Defense; the Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Space; the Council for Higher Education Planning and Budget Committee; and Digital Israel. There is no need to establish another body to coordinate AI, as in cyber, and there was also no need for it in cyber. The agencies are perfectly capable of working together; there is no need for a body that will only get into conflicts with the government agencies," the letter states.

The critics especially attacked the recommendation to focus on agriculture. They wrote, "We think that the state should step in where there is market failure, and the existing market failure is a shortage of personnel. The state should invest in opening government databases that will be accessible for AI research, and then matters such as shortening waiting lines, agriculture, and others will be solved in any case."

Ben-Israel said in response, "The report is a draft, and discussion of it has not ended. We will finish the work we started."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on November 24, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

Isaac Ben-Israel
Isaac Ben-Israel
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