Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

The move may attract software engineers to build on Google’s technology and encourage usage of its newly profitable cloud division. (AFP/File)
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Updated 21 February 2024
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Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

  • Individuals and businesses can build AI software based on Google’s new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free

SAN FRANCISCO: Google on Wednesday released new artificial intelligence (AI) models that outside developers potentially can fashion as their own, following a similar move by Meta Platforms and others.
The Alphabet subsidiary said individuals and businesses can build AI software based on its new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free. The company is making key technical data such as what are called model weights publicly available, it said.
The move may attract software engineers to build on Google’s technology and encourage usage of its newly profitable cloud division. The models are “optimized” for Google Cloud, where first-time cloud customers using them get $300 in credits, the company said.
Google stopped short of making Gemma fully “open source,” meaning the company still may have a hand in setting terms of use and ownership. Some experts have said open-source AI was ripe for abuse, while others have championed the approach for widening the set of people who can contribute to and benefit from the technology.
With the announcement, Google did not make its bigger, premier models known as Gemini open, unlike Gemma. It said the Gemma models are sized at two billion or seven billion parameters — or the number of different values that an algorithm takes into account to generate output.
Meta’s Llama 2 models range from seven to 70 billion parameters in size. Google has not disclosed the size of its largest Gemini models. For comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 model announced in 2020 had 175 billion parameters.
Chipmaker Nvidia on Wednesday said it has worked with Google to ensure Gemma models run smoothly on its chips. Nvidia also said it will soon make chatbot software, which it is developing to run AI models on Windows PCs, work with Gemma.


Several Google employees fired, arrested after ‘Googlers Against Genocide’ sit-in protests

Updated 29 sec ago
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Several Google employees fired, arrested after ‘Googlers Against Genocide’ sit-in protests

  • Outrage over tech giant’s $1.2bn Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military
  • Affiliated group No Tech for Apartheid condemns decision as a flagrant act of retaliation

LONDON: A number of Google employees have lost their jobs and nine have been arrested following protests against the tech giant’s $1.2bn Project Nimbus contract with the Israeli military.

The demonstrations, organized by Googlers Against Genocide and associated with the group No Tech for Apartheid, involved a 10-hour sit-in at Google’s sites in New York City and Sunnyvale, California.

The protesters occupied the office of Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian in California, prompting police intervention. 

“Physically impeding other employees’ work and preventing them from accessing our facilities is a clear violation of our policies and completely unacceptable behavior,” the company said in a statement.

It added the decision to terminate the employees’ contracts was taken following individual case investigations and that the company would continue to take action as necessary.

In a statement on Medium, Google workers affiliated with the No Tech for Apartheid campaign called the decision a “flagrant act of retaliation” and said employees who did not directly participate in Tuesday’s protests were among those who lost their jobs.

“Despite Google’s attempts to silence us and disregard our concerns, we will persist,” said Jane Chung, spokesperson for the protesters.

Announced by Google and Amazon in 2021, Project Nimbus has faced criticism for providing advanced AI and machine-learning capabilities to Israel’s government.

Amid the ongoing conflict, No Tech for Apartheid launched a petition urging both companies to cancel the project, alleging complicity in Gaza’s ethnic cleansing.

Google’s statement said the Nimbus contract was “not directed at highly sensitive, classified or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.” 

Sources have also indicated that both Google and Amazon are bound by stringent contractual obligations that prevent them yielding to boycott pressure, effectively trapping them in the current situation.

The protests come in the wake of allegations that Google is silencing pro-Palestinian voices.

One of the fired workers protested during a presentation by Google’s Israel managing director in New York City.

Employees have demanded that the company stop “the harassment, intimidation, bullying, silencing, and censorship of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Googlers.”

They have also demanded that Google address “health and safety issues” in the workplace, which arose from the “mental health consequences of working at a company that is using their labor to enable a genocide.”


Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza joins Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people

Updated 18 April 2024
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Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza joins Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people

  • Azaiza honored in “Icons” category for his work documenting the conflict in Gaza

LONDON: Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza has been named one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2024” by Time Magazine.

Azaiza was recognized in the “Icons” category for his work documenting the conflict in Gaza, with his photographs offering a rare insight into the realities faced by those living in the enclave.

“For 108 days, Motaz Azaiza acted as the world’s eyes and ears in his native Gaza. Armed with a camera and a flak jacket marked ‘Press,’ the 25-year-old Palestinian photographer spent nearly four months documenting life under Israeli bombardment,” the magazine’s entry description said.

Azaiza’s images offer a perspective rarely seen in international media, given Israel’s ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza.

The photographer took to social media after the announcement, saying the honor symbolizes more than just his individual achievements.

“I am really blessed to share my country name with me wherever I go or whatever I achieve,” he wrote on X.

During his time in Gaza, Azaiza captured images showing the destruction wrought by the conflict, and the resilience of its people.

His photographs, shared with over 18 million followers on Instagram, served as a crucial source of information, despite the risks involved.

Since leaving Gaza in January and relocating to Doha, Azaiza has continued to call for greater awareness of the crisis, and international intervention to halt the conflict.

“What is happening in Gaza is not content for you,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine. “We are not telling you what is happening … for your likes or views or shares. No, we are waiting for you to act. We need to stop this war.”

Since 1999, Time Magazine has published its annual Time 100 list, recognizing influential individuals in various fields.

Others who made this year’s list include singer Dua Lipa, Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, American footballer Patrick Mahomes, Formula One driver Max Verstappen and Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

In November 2023, GQ Middle East named Azaiza as its Man of the Year, underscoring his role in inspiring positive change.

Azaiza’s nomination for the Time 100 list was submitted by Yasmeen Serhan, a staff writer at Time Magazine.


Gaza’s Mohammed Salem wins World Press Photo of the Year award with haunting image of woman cradling dead niece

Updated 18 April 2024
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Gaza’s Mohammed Salem wins World Press Photo of the Year award with haunting image of woman cradling dead niece

  • Picture was taken on Oct. 17, at Nasser hospital in southern Gaza, where families searched for relatives killed during Isralei bombing
  • ‘I hope photo makes world more conscious of the human impact of war, especially on children,’ Salem said

AMSTERDAM: Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem won the prestigious 2024 World Press Photo of the Year award on Thursday for his image of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her five-year-old niece in the Gaza Strip.
The picture was taken on Oct. 17, 2023, at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where families were searching for relatives killed during Israeli bombing of the Palestinian enclave.
Salem’s winning image portrays Inas Abu Maamar, 36, sobbing while holding Saly’s sheet-clad body in the hospital morgue.
“Mohammed received the news of his WPP award with humility, saying that this is not a photo to celebrate but that he appreciates its recognition and the opportunity to publish it to a wider audience,” Reuters’ Global Editor for Pictures and Video, Rickey Rogers, said at a ceremony in Amsterdam.
“He hopes with this award that the world will become even more conscious of the human impact of war, especially on children,” Rogers said, standing in front of the photo at the Nieuwe Kerk in the Dutch capital.
Announcing its annual awards, the Amsterdam-based World Press Photo Foundation said it was important to recognize the dangers facing journalists covering conflicts.
It said 99 journalists and media employees had been killed covering the war between Israel and Hamas since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded by launching a military offensive in Gaza.
“The work of press and documentary photographers around the world is often done at high risk,” said Joumana El Zein Khoury, the organization’s executive director.
“This past year, the death toll in Gaza pushed the number of journalists killed to a near-record high. It is important to recognize the trauma they have experienced to show the world the humanitarian impact of the war.”
Salem, a Palestinian aged 39, has worked for Reuters since 2003. He also won an award in the 2010 World Press Photo competition.
The jury said Salem’s 2024 winning image was “composed with care and respect, offering at once a metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss.”
“I felt the picture sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip,” Salem said when the image was first published in November.
“People were confused, running from one place to another, anxious to know the fate of their loved ones, and this woman caught my eye as she was holding the body of the little girl and refused to let go.”



’PROFOUNDLY AFFECTING’
Salem’s wife had given birth to their child days before he took the shot.
The photograph is “profoundly affecting,” said jury member Fiona Shields, head of photography at Guardian News & Media.
The jury selected the winning photos from 61,062 entries by 3,851 photographers from 130 countries.
GEO photographer Lee-Ann Olwage of South Africa won the story of the year category with images documenting dementia in Madagascar.
The long-term projects category was won by Alejandro Cegarra of Venezuela for the series “The Two Walls” for The New York Times/Bloomberg.
Ukrainian photographer Julia Kochetova won the open format award with “War is Personal,” which documented the war in her country by weaving together pictures, poetry, audio and music in documentary style.


Arab League, OIC Islamic Broadcasting Union sign media protocol

Updated 17 April 2024
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Arab League, OIC Islamic Broadcasting Union sign media protocol

  • Protocol encompasses various areas of collaboration, and focuses on training and capacity building in media and journalism
  • Ambassador Ahmed Rashid Khattabi expressed optimism that the collaboration will contribute to promoting values of tolerance and moderation

CAIRO: The Arab League said that a media cooperation protocol will be signed between its Secretariat’s Media and Communication Sector and the OIC Islamic Broadcasting Union.

The Arab League added that “as part of efforts to cement ties between the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Radio and Television Union, and in line with the General Secretariat’s commitment to fostering relations with regional and international organizations, a cooperation protocol will be signed between the General Secretariat’s Media and Communication Sector and the OIC Islamic Broadcasting Union.”

The protocol encompasses various areas of collaboration, and focuses on training and capacity building in media and journalism. It aims to bolster media exchange between the League of Arab States and the OIC, facilitate the sharing of expertise and knowledge in media practices, organize joint media initiatives, and conduct specialized training courses and workshops.

Ambassador Ahmed Rashid Khattabi, assistant secretary-general and head of the Media and Communication Sector, said that the protocol shows the commitment of both organizations to advancing professional cooperation.

He highlighted the importance of aligning with rapid technological advancements to meet the evolving needs of both entities.

Khattabi commended the significance of this protocol, stressing the vital role of intensified media cooperation between Arab and Islamic nations.

He expressed optimism that the collaboration will contribute to promoting values of tolerance and moderation, while rejecting extremism, and fostering deeper media and cultural exchanges.

The signing ceremony will take place at the headquarters of the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States in Cairo.

In response to the secretary-general’s directive, Khattabi will sign the cooperation protocol on behalf of the General Secretariat of the League of Arab States. Amr Ellissy, president of the OIC Radio and Television Union, will sign on behalf of the union.


Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says

Updated 17 April 2024
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Social media platform X blocked in Pakistan over national security, ministry says

  • Ministry accuses X of failing to address its concerns, says ban was in ‘interest of upholding national security’
  • X has been blocked since country election in February, with activities critizing ban aims to stifle democratic accountability

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s interior ministry said on Wednesday it had blocked access to social media platform X around the time of February’s election on national security concerns, confirming a long-suspected shutdown.
Users in Pakistan have reported problems using X, formerly known as Twitter, since mid-February, but the government had made no official announcement on the matter until now.
The interior ministry mentioned the shutdown in a written submission to Islamabad High Court on Wednesday. Another court has told the government to reconsider the ban within a week, said Abdul Moiz Jafri, a petitioner and advocate.
“It is very pertinent to mention here that the failure of Twitter/X to adhere to the lawful directives of the government of Pakistan and address concerns regarding the misuse of its platform necessitated the imposition of a ban,” the ministry said in its court submission, which was seen by Reuters.
It said X had been reluctant to resolve the issue. X did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Wednesday.
“The decision to impose a ban on Twitter/X in Pakistan was made in the interest of upholding national security, maintaining public order, and preserving the integrity of our nation,” the ministry report said.
Access to X has remained limited since the Feb. 8 national election, which the party of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan says was rigged.

KHAN’S PARTY IS BIG USER OF X
Among Pakistan’s political parties, Khan’s party is the most prolific user of social media platforms, particularly after the country’s traditional media began censoring news about the ex-cricket star and his party ahead of the polls. Khan has over 20 million followers on X, making him the most followed Pakistani.
Khan says Pakistan’s military was behind his ouster as prime minister in 2022 and that it helped his opponents form the current government, despite candidates backed by his party winning most seats in February’s election. The military denies this charge.
He remains in jail on a number of convictions, most of which came days before the election.
Many government officials in Pakistan, notably Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, continue to use X — most likely through VPN software that bypasses the blocks.
The decision to temporarily block X was taken after considering confidential reports from Pakistan’s intelligence and security agencies, the ministry report said.
It said “hostile elements operating on Twitter/X have nefarious intentions to create an environment of chaos and instability, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the country and plunging it into some form of anarchy.”
Rights groups and marketing advertisers have raised concerns.
Digital rights activist Usama Khilji said the block on X seemed designed to hinder the democratic accountability which he said a platform with instant updates of real-time information enables, especially amid the allegations and evidence of rigging which surfaced following the election.
Marketing consultant Saif Ali said: “It has become nearly impossible to convince Pakistani advertisers to invest in Twitter for brand communications, due to the platform being throttled by governmental authorities.”