IDF hackathon challenge: Detect fake news

Givat Olga Hackathon  photo: Min of Defense

With a laptop, some ice cream, and a promise of NIS 500,000 and an overseas vacation, the Ministry of Defense got developers to look for solutions within 24 hours.

How much technology and how many algorithms can be developed in just 24 hours? The answer, it turns out, is quite a lot.Lat week, the Ministry of Defense Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT) completed the first hackathon of its kind, in which 26 small groups of developers were faced with challenges of great interest to the Ministry of Defense.

A hackathon is an event in which technology and product experts, programmers, and content specialists are assembled for a stipulated time for the purpose of devising and presenting solutions to technological challenges brought before them. Many agencies have ridden this trend, and the Ministry of Defense has also discovered its advantages.

100 software experts, soldiers and officers serving in technological units of the IDF, the police, and other defense agencies assembled at a vacation site for soldiers on the Givat Olga beach, and pondered how to solve the array of technological challenges described to them. These challenges included spotting profiles suspected of being counterfeit or belonging to pedophiles prowling on social networks, detecting fake news on the Internet in real time, tracking and rapidly analyzing sources of a shooting, detecting a number of people in a building within a specified time, predicting the height of waves, etc.

This is the first hackathon conducted by MAFAT, which is responsible for developing technologies and capabilities used in weapons for the security forces in their regular missions.

The hackathon participants were selected in a pre-screening process. All of them serve in elite IDF technological units, and expressed willingness to work in small groups of 3-5 participants on one of the challenges described to them, after MAFAT head Brigadier General (res.) Daniel Gold promised them that successful solutions would become part of development programs, that the most successful would receive an initial NIS 500,000 investment, and that the developers who devised it would be sent to a prestigious overseas technology conference.

Yoga workshop, kickboxing, and straight to work

Seated on plastic chairs around dozens of round tables filling the vacation village dining room, with a view of the Givat Olga beach, the hackathon participants wrote lines of code and busily tapped away at keyboards, while stuffing themselves with ice cream from a constantly working machine in order to keep themselves alert.

In the afternoon, they took a short yoga break on the lawn. In the evening, they were brought to the beach in order to take their frustrations and tension out in a kickboxing workshop. Then they shook off the sand, went back to their mobile computers, and went on typing away into the night. The following day, eyes bleary after 24 hours without sleep, they presented their solutions to the judges.

First prize went to a team that proposed a solution for a need described by MAFAT. The solution makes it possible to track source of firing using sound waves and image processing. The proposed solution is for tracking shooting from a light weapon. The demonstration of the proposed solution had a 98% success rate.

The Ministry of Defense said enthusiastically that this rate was far beyond those promised by the leading products already in the market in this field. The winning developments were selected by a panel of judges headed by MAFAT representative and former acting head of the National Security Council Brigadier General (res.) Professor Jacob Nagel.

At least five groups worked on developing means of detecting fake news on the Internet. One group offered a smart monitoring system capable of detecting images over-processed using software such as Photoshop. Other groups proposed solutions based on algorithms aimed at spotting false or biased reports and warning web surfers in real time that they were consuming information that was counterfeit or of dubious reliability.

What does the Ministry of Defense care about fake news, or about identifying dangerous pedophiles on the Internet? Defense sources explained that technology capable of accomplishing this can also be used, with slight adjustments, to find reports with intelligence value, or to track suspects. "More than one project from this hackathon will be used," MAFAT computer department head M., responsible for organizational innovation in MAFAT, told "Globes." "In the case of fake news, we know of cases in which certain reports have had a strong effect on perception, and we have found very advanced algorithms that can provide an appropriate solution for these cases."

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - - on July 16, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

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Givat Olga Hackathon  photo: Min of Defense
Givat Olga Hackathon photo: Min of Defense
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