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

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.

Israel eyes use of Musk’s Starlink in event of war with Hezbollah

Updated 25 June 2024

Israel eyes use of Musk’s Starlink in event of war with Hezbollah

  • Financial daily Calcalist says Israeli ministries plan to use Starlink’s satellite to ensure stable data and information flow during emergencies

JERUSALEM: Israel is looking to use Elon Musk’s Starlink to maintain Internet connectivity should there be a potential all-out-war with Lebanese Hezbollah on the northern border that causes power outages in Israel, a newspaper report said on Tuesday.
The Calcalist financial daily said that the finance and communications ministries were seeking to utilize Starlink’s 5,000 low-orbit satellites to ensure stable data and information flow for state authorities during emergencies.
Both ministries did not immediately comment to Reuters.
In February, Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi gave permission to Starlink, the satellite unit of SpaceX, to operate in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Iran-backed Hezbollah began attacking Israel shortly after Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault sparked the war in Gaza, and the sides have been trading blows in the months since then. Hezbollah has said it will not stop until there is a ceasefire in Gaza.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant headed to Washington on Sunday to discuss the next phase of the Gaza war and escalating hostilities on the border with Lebanon, where exchanges of fire with Hezbollah have stoked fears of wider conflict. A full war in the north could lead to missile attacks on Israel’s power grid and other infrastructure.

New report suggests Israeli military views some Gaza journalists as ‘legitimate targets’

Updated 25 June 2024

New report suggests Israeli military views some Gaza journalists as ‘legitimate targets’

  • The Guardian and non-profit Forbidden Stories allege that Israeli forces label journalists working for Hamas-controlled media as terrorists
  • Experts argue this approach is part of effort to silence critical reporting

LONDON: A new investigation has suggested that the Israeli military views some Gaza-based journalists as “legitimate targets.”

The Guardian, in collaboration with the Paris-based non-profit Forbidden Stories, revealed that some members of the armed forces consider journalists working for Hamas-controlled or affiliated outlets as legitimate targets not covered by the same international protections as civilians.

Media watchdogs Committee to Protect Journalists and Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism reported that around 30 percent of the 108 media workers killed since Oct. 7 in Gaza were employed by outlets affiliated with or closely tied to Hamas.

This includes the largest Hamas-run outlet in Gaza, Al-Aqsa media network, which employs hundreds of people across its TV station, radio, and newspaper arms.

The report, authored by Harry Davies, Manisha Ganguly, David Pegg, Hoda Osman, Bethan McKernan, and award-winning Israeli journalist and film director Yuval Abraham, noted that while “Al-Aqsa’s programming is unmistakably pro-Hamas, anti-Israel and, at times, antisemitic … simply working (for the media outlet) does not make someone a legitimate target to be killed.”

Janina Dill, a professor at the University of Oxford and expert in the laws of war, said: “Reporting the news is not direct participation in hostilities.

“Even if they reported the news in a biased way, even if they did propaganda for Hamas, even if Israel fundamentally disagrees with how they report the news. That is not enough.”

Since 2019, Israel has designated Al-Aqsa network as a terrorist organization, calling it “a propaganda arm of Hamas and a central platform for the distribution of inciting messages by the terror organization.”

The media group has also been sanctioned by the US since 2010.

Its offices, evacuated after Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 to avoid Israeli retaliation, have been previously bombed by Israel over accusations of being used for military purposes.

The report detailed how Israeli soldiers were given a “permissive approach” to targeting, with Hamas-affiliated media being told they existed in a “grey zone” and that some in the Israeli military hold the view that “anyone getting paid by Hamas” could be considered a legitimate target.

“Hamas invests a lot of resources in its propaganda teams. They often won’t do an activity if they don’t have a photographer. They must document everything,” an unnamed military intelligence officer said. “So some will tell you: ‘Look, a Hamasnik is Hamasnik.’”

An Israeli military spokesperson denied the report’s accusations, stating that while it “does not target civilian objects,” the outlet “employs terrorists and affords them the facade of journalists.”

The spokesperson claimed that the Israeli military killed six Al-Aqsa workers who were alleged members of Hamas’s armed wing but did not provide evidence to support the claim.

Experts warned that this approach puts Israel in a “troubling position” as it is often difficult to distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Many press freedom organizations expressed concerns about the military’s efforts to silence critical reporting.

Irene Khan, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, stated that Israel had “spread disinformation about journalists being linked to militants” and failed to meet the “burden of proof” to make such claims.

Moscow says to block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP website

Updated 25 June 2024

Moscow says to block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP website

  • The list also include France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Mundo
  • “Retaliatory measure” was taken in response to Brussels banning several Russian broadcasts, Moscos said

MOSCOW: Russia said that Tuesday it would block access to 81 EU media outlets, including AFP’s websites, as a “retaliatory measure” after Brussels imposed broadcasting bans on several Russian state media outlets.
The European Union in May said it had decided to block access to four Kremlin-controlled media for being “instrumental in bringing forward and supporting” Moscow’s Ukraine offensive.
Moscow said it was responding to that move.
“Counter-restrictions are being introduced on the access from Russian territory of broadcast resources of media outlets from EU member states,” Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement, publishing a list of media outlets and blaming Brussels for the restrictions.
The list included AFP’s homepage and its client portal
France’s Le Monde, Germany’s Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Mundo were also among the media outlets named on the list.
Russia denounced the EU sanctions as “politically motivated” and said the bloc’s decisions were “forcing Moscow to take mirror and proportionate countermeasures.”
It said it would “revise” the restrictions if sanctions on Russian media were lifted.
Russia has already blocked access to much of the Western media since sending troops to Ukraine, as well as to Western social media giants.
Domestic media that are critical of President Vladimir Putin’s rule or his Ukraine offensive have also been banned, harassed and outlawed, and many independent media outlets and journalists have fled into exile.

‘There aren’t many white, male anchors left,’ says British presenter Tom Bradby

Updated 25 June 2024

‘There aren’t many white, male anchors left,’ says British presenter Tom Bradby

  • ITV’s main competitiors - the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News - recently announced a more diverse lineup of presenters for their election coverage than in previous years
  • Statistics show that white journalists make up the vast majority of Britain's news industry

LONDON: A top British news presenter has said “there aren’t many white, male anchors” left in the industry ahead of his hosting of UK election coverage.

Journalist and ITV presenter Tom Bradby made the remarks in an interview with Radio Times.

The News at Ten host said: “There aren’t many white male anchors left, dare I say, so I feel a bit less nervous about that (the lineup) than, possibly, I should.”

ITV’s rivals, including the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News, recently announced a more diverse lineup of presenters for their election coverage than in previous years.

Radio Times asked Bradby, 57, whether he felt “exposed to the winds of change” as he might be considered “pale, male and stale.”

He replied: “I don’t particularly because that’s not my decision. That will be someone else’s decision.”

“You just put your head down, do a good job and try to be as nice as you can to everyone around you.

“As you get older you think: ‘Will I be remembered as somebody who was decent to work with?’ Because that’s what you want to be remembered for.

“It’s much easier to have that perspective when you’re older.”

Bradby presented ITV’s election night coverage in 2015, 2017 and 2019. He will be the only white, male presenter anchoring solo on election night on Britain’s major channels.

Statistics released in 2023 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism revealed that white journalists comprised 94 percent of Britain’s journalistic workforce.

Black journalists in British newsrooms represented only 0.2 percent of the journalistic workforce despite making up 3 percent of the British population, according to the Reuters Institute’s data.

Asian Britons make up 2.5 percent of the journalistic workforce and 7 percent of the population.

A survey earlier this year by FT Strategies, the consulting arm of the Financial Times, found that diversity and inclusion in Britain’s news industry were “still not a priority in practice.”

Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank

Updated 24 June 2024

Israeli minister uses explicit language, vows annexation of West Bank

  • Bezalel Smotrich says government ‘will establish sovereignty first on the ground and then through legislation’
  • Rhetoric comes after reports of Israeli plans to pass ‘authority over the territory into hands of civilians’

LONDON: Israel’s far-right minister Bezalel Smotrich has made one of the most explicit and forceful declarations yet regarding the annexation of the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank.

Speaking at a meeting of his Religious Zionism party, Smotrich, who serves as Israel’s finance minister and also holds a ministerial role in the Defense Ministry, used unequivocal language, referring to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria, asserting that they are “an integral part of Israel.”

Smotrich declared at the conference: “We will establish sovereignty … first on the ground and then through legislation. I intend to legalize the young settlements.”

He stressed that his “life’s mission is to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Smotrich’s remarks represent a new escalation in the Israeli government’s rhetoric, marking a clear and unambiguous stance on the annexation issue.

The use of explicit language underscores the minister’s hardline position and his commitment to changing the status of the West Bank through legal and practical measures.

This development follows revelations in The New York Times and The Guardian last week accusing the Israeli government of planning to “quietly pass authority over the territory into the hands of civilians” and other pro-settler civil servants, instead of the military.

Smotrich explained in leaked recorded remarks made at a gathering of supporters in the West Bank that these “mega-dramatic” administrative changes would transfer powers to the Civil Administration, led by Smotrich within the Defense Ministry.

The transfer would reduce the likelihood of legal checks on settlement expansion and development, as the Civil Administration is responsible for planning and construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is about 60 percent of the total land.

Smotrich added that the new system would result in the government avoiding international criticism by keeping the Defense Ministry involved, making it seem as if the military remained the main player in governing the West Bank.

“It will be easier to swallow in the international and legal context,” he said.

Smotrich’s comments are likely to further inflame tensions in the region and draw sharp criticism from Palestinian leaders and the international community, who view the annexation plans as a violation of international law and a significant obstacle to peace efforts.

Smotrich, who has pushed to legalize illegal settlements in the West Bank and approve thousands of new homes in Palestinian territories since becoming a minister, has been at the center of controversy in recent times.

US media have speculated that he could face sanctions for his role in destabilizing the West Bank.