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UN sounds alarm over Israel’s AI bombing of Gaza

The technology should be utilized to benefit the world, not wage wars, Antonio Guterres has said

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern on Friday over reports that the Israeli military is using artificial intelligence in airstrikes on Gaza.

According to a report published by the Israeli-Palestinian +972 Magazine earlier this week, and citing Israeli intelligence sources, the IDF has used AI to mark suspected Palestinian militants for assassination, including in densely populated residential areas, which has resulted in many civilian casualties. The AI system, known as ‘Lavender’, reportedly analyzes the personal data of Gaza’s residents and makes lists of those suspected of ties to the military wings of Palestinian militant group Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

At a press briefing at UN headquarters in New York marking 6-months since the start of the war in Gaza, Guterres said that he was “deeply troubled” by the reports.

“No part of life and death decisions which impact entire families should be delegated to the cold calculation of algorithms,” he stated.

“I have warned for many years of the dangers of weaponizing AI and reducing the essential role of human agency. AI should be used as a force for good to benefit the world; not to contribute to waging war on an industrial level, blurring accountability.”

While the Israeli military has not publicly acknowledged the existence of ‘Lavender,’ it has been known to use similar systems during its previous operations in Gaza. In its response to the +972 Magazine’s report, the IDF claimed that it “does not use an artificial intelligence system that identifies terrorist operatives or tries to predict whether a person is a terrorist,” while the “system” the report refers to “is simply a database” used by the military for the purpose of cross-referencing intelligence sources.

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In its statement, the IDF also noted that Hamas intentionally places its operatives and military assets “in the heart of the civilian population,” using civilians “as a human shield.” The IDF claimed that it directs its strikes only towards military targets, but due to the density of the enclave’s population, it is difficult to avoid “exceptional incidents” when civilians are also hit.

The latest figures from the Gazan health ministry show that, as of Friday, Israeli forces have killed at least 33,091 people since the war kicked off in October last year, most of them women and children. In his address, Guterres reiterated the UN’s urgent appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

“Six months on, we are at the brink: of mass starvation; of regional conflagration; of a total loss of faith in global standards and norms. It’s time to step back from that brink – to silence the guns – to ease the horrible suffering,” he stressed.

 

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