Israel’s appetite for high-tech weapons highlights a Biden policy gap

Within hours of the Hamas attack on Israel last month, a Silicon Valley drone company called Skydio began receiving emails from the Israeli military. The requests were for the company’s short-range reconnaissance drones — small flying vehicles used by the U.S. Army to navigate obstacles autonomously and produce 3D scans of complex structures like buildings.

The company said yes. In the three weeks since the attack, Skydio has sent more than 100 drones to the Israeli Defense Forces, with more to come, according to Mark Valentine, the Skydio executive in charge of government contracts.

Skydio isn’t the only American tech company fielding orders. Israel’s ferocious campaign to eliminate Hamas from the Gaza Strip is creating new demand for cutting-edge defense technology — often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies.

Already, Israel is using self-piloting drones from Shield AI for close-quarters indoor combat and has reportedly requested 200 Switchblade 600 kamikaze drones from another U.S. company, according to DefenseScoop. Jon Gruen, CEO of Fortem Technologies, which supplied Ukrainian forces with radar and autonomous anti-drone aircraft, said he was having “early-stage conversations” with Israelis about whether the company’s AI systems could work in the dense, urban environments in Gaza.

This surge of interest echoes the one driven by the even larger conflict in Ukraine, which has been a proving ground for new AI-powered defense technology — much of it ordered by the Ukrainian government directly from U.S. tech companies.

AI ethicists have raised concerns about the Israeli military’s use of AI-driven technologies to target Palestinians, pointing to reports that the army used AI to strike more than 11,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas militants launched a deadly assault on Israel on Oct 7.

The Israeli defense ministry did not elaborate in response to questions about its use of AI.

These sophisticated platforms also pose a new challenge for the Biden administration. On Nov. 13, the U.S. began implementing a new foreign policy to govern the responsible military use of such technologies. The policy, first unveiled in the Hague in February and endorsed by 45 other countries, is an effort to keep the military use of AI and autonomous systems within the international law of war.

But neither Israel nor Ukraine are signatories, leaving a growing hole in the young effort to keep high-tech weapons operating within agreed-upon lines.

Asked about Israel’s compliance with the U.S.-led declaration on military AI, a spokesperson for the State Department said “it is too early” to draw conclusions about why some countries have not endorsed the document, or to suggest that non-endorsing countries disagree with the declaration or will not adhere to its principles.

Mark Cancian, a senior adviser with the CSIS International Security Program, said in an interview that “it’s very difficult” to coordinate international agreement between nations on the military use of AI for two reasons: “One is that the technology is evolving so quickly that the description constraints you put on it today may no longer may not be relevant five years from now because the technology will be so different. The other thing is that so much of this technology is civilian, that it’s hard to restrict military development without also affecting civilian development.”

In Gaza, drones are being largely used for surveillance, scouting locations and looking for militants without risking soldiers’ lives, according to Israeli and U.S. military technology developers and observers interviewed for this story.

Israel discloses few specifics of how it uses this technology, and some worry the Israeli military is using unreliable AI recommendation systems to identify targets for lethal operations.

Ukrainian forces have used experimental AI systems to identify Russian soldiers, weapons and unit positions from social media and satellite feeds.

Observers say that Israel is a particularly fast-moving theater for new weaponry because it has a technically sophisticated military, large budget, and — crucially — close existing ties to the U.S. tech industry.

“The difference, now maybe more than ever, is the speed at which technology can move and the willingness of suppliers of that technology to deal directly with Israel,” said Arun Seraphin, executive director of the National Defense Industrial Association’s Institute for Emerging Technologies.

Though the weapons trade is subject to scrutiny and regulation, autonomous systems also raise special challenges. Unlike traditional military hardware, buyers are able to reconfigure these smart platforms for their own needs, adding a layer of inscrutability to how these systems are used.

While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do, multiple manufacturers told POLITICO.

Shield AI co-founder Brandon Tseng confirmed that users are able to customize the Nova 2 drones that the IDF is using to search for barricaded shooters and civilians in buildings targeted by Hamas fighters.

Matt Mahmoudi, who authored Amnesty International’s May report documenting Israel’s use of facial recognition systems in Palestinian territories, told POLITICO that historically, U.S. technology companies contracting with Israeli defense authorities have had little insight or control over how their products are used by the Israeli government, pointing to several instances of the Israeli military running its own AI software on hardware imported from other countries to closely monitor the movement of Palestinians.

Complicating the issue are the blurred lines between military and non-military technology. In the industry, the term is “dual-use” — a system, like a drone-swarm equipped with computer-vision, that might be used for commercial purposes but could also be deployed in combat.

The Technology Policy Lab at the Center for a New American Security writes that “dual-use technologies are more difficult to regulate at both the national and international levels” and notes that in order for the U.S. to best apply export controls, it “requires complementary commitment from technology-leading allies and partners.”

Exportable military-use AI systems can run the gamut from commercial products to autonomous weapons. Even in cases where AI-enabled systems are explicitly designed as weapons, meaning U.S. authorities are required by law to monitor the transfer of these systems to another country, the State Department only recently adopted policies to monitor civilian harm caused by these weapons, in response to Congressional pressure.

But enforcement is still a question mark: Josh Paul, a former State Department official, wrote that a planned report on the policy’s implementation was canceled because the department wanted to avoid any debate on civilian harm risks in Gaza from U.S. weapons transfers to Israel.

A Skydio spokesperson said the company is currently not aware of any users breaching its code of conduct and would “take appropriate measures” to mitigate the misuse of its drones. A Shield AI spokesperson said the company is confident its products are not being used to violate humanitarian norms in Israel and “would not support” the unethical use of its products.

In response to queries about whether the U.S. government is able to closely monitor high-tech defense platforms sent by smaller companies to Israel or Ukraine, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said it was restricted from publicly commenting or confirming the details of commercially licensed defense trade activity.

Some observers point out that the Pentagon derives some benefit from watching new systems tested elsewhere.

“The great value for the United States is we’re getting to field test all this new stuff,” said CSIS’s Cancian — a process that takes much longer in peacetime environments and allows the Pentagon to place its bets on novel technologies with more confidence, he added.

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Facial recognition technology should be regulated, but not banned

By Tony Porter, Chief Privacy Officer, Corsight AI, and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink, Founder, Conservation Beyond Borders

The European Commission has proven itself to be an effective regulator in the past. A blanket ban on FRT in law enforcement will only benefit the criminals, Tony Porter and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink write.

The EU’s AI Act passed a major hurdle in mid-June when the bloc’s lawmakers greenlit what will be the world’s first rules on artificial intelligence. 


But one proposal stands apart: a total ban on facial recognition technology, or FRT. 

If left to stand, this rule will blindfold the law enforcers who do vital work to protect the most vulnerable in society. It will embolden criminal groups such as those who traffic wildlife and human victims, thereby putting lives at risk.

All surveillance capabilities intrude on human rights to some extent. The question is whether we can regulate the use of FRT effectively to mitigate any impact on these rights. 

Protecting privacy versus protecting people is a balance EU lawmakers can and must strike. A blanket ban is the easy, but not the responsible option.

Privacy concerns should face a reality check

MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of a ban on the use of live FRT in publicly accessible spaces, and a similar ban on the use of “after the event” FRT unless a judicial order is obtained. 

Now attention has shifted to no doubt heated trilogue negotiations between the European Parliament, European Council and member states.

FRT in essence uses cameras powered by AI algorithms to analyse a person’s facial features, potentially enabling authorities to match individuals against a database of pre-existing images, in order to identify them. 

Privacy campaigners have long argued that the potential benefits of using such tech are not worth the negative impact on human rights. But many of those arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. in fact, they’re based on conclusively debunked myths.

The first is that the tech is inaccurate and that it disproportionately disadvantages people of colour. 

That may have been true of very early iterations of the technology, but it certainly isn’t today. Corsight has been benchmarked by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to an accuracy rate of 99.8%, for example. 

Separately, a 2020 NIST report claimed that FRT performs far more effectively across racial and other demographic groups than widely reported, with the most accurate technologies displaying “undetectable” differences between groups.


It’s also falsely claimed that FRT is ineffective. In fact, Interpol said in 2021 that it had been able to identify almost 1,500 terrorists, criminals, fugitives, persons of interest and missing persons since 2016 using FRT. That figure is expected to have risen exponentially since.

A final myth, that FRT intrudes on human rights as enshrined by the European Convention of the same name, was effectively shot down by the Court of Appeal in London. In that 2020 case, judges ruled that scanning faces and instantly deleting the data if a match can’t be found has a negligible impact on human rights.

It’s about stopping the traffickers

On the other hand, if used in compliance with strict regulations, high-quality FRT has the capacity to save countless lives and protect people and communities from harm. 

Human trafficking is a trade in misery which enables sexual exploitation, forced labour and other heinous crimes. It’s estimated to affect tens of millions around the world, including children. 

But if facial images of known victims or traffickers are caught on camera, police could be alerted in real-time to step in. 


Given that traffickers usually go to great lengths to hide their identity, and that victims — especially children — rarely possess official IDs, FRT offers a rare opportunity to make a difference.

Wildlife trafficking is similarly clandestine. It’s a global trade estimated many years ago at €20.9 billion — the world’s fourth biggest illegal activity behind arms, drugs and human trafficking. 

With much of the trade carried out by criminal syndicates online, there’s a potential evidence trail if investigators can match facial images of trafficked animals to images posted later to social media. 

Buyers can then be questioned as to whom they procured a particular animal from. Apps are already springing up to help track wildlife traffickers in this way.

There is a better way forward

Given what’s at stake here, European lawmakers should be thinking about ways to leverage a technology proven to help reduce societal harm — but in a way that mitigates risks to human rights. 


The good news is that it can be done with the right regulatory guardrails. In fact, the EU’s AI Act already provides a great foundation for this, by proposing a standard of excellence for AI technologies which FRT could be held to.

Building on this, FRT should be retained as an operation tool wherever there’s a “substantial” risk to the public and a legitimate basis for protecting citizens from harm.

Its use should always be necessary and proportionate to that pressing need, and subject to a rigorous human rights assessment. 

Independent ethical and regulatory oversight must of course be applied, with a centralized supervisory authority put in place. And clear policies should be published setting out details of the proposed use. 

Impacted communities should be consulted and data published detailing the success or failure of deployments and human rights assessments.

The European Commission has proven itself to be an effective regulator in the past. So, let’s regulate FRT. A blanket ban will only benefit the criminals.

Tony Porter is the Chief Privacy Officer at Corsight AI and the former UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner, and Dr Nicole Benjamin Fink is the Founder of Conservation Beyond Borders.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Explained | Are Neanderthals to blame for the long and short of the human nose?

This article is part of a fortnightly column exploring contemporary concepts and issues in genetics.

The human nose is an intriguing feature that holds significance in various aspects of our lives. Beyond its practical function, to facilitate our breathing and sense of smell, the nose has long been associated with notions of beauty, deception, and other aspects of historical significance. Different cultures and societies have their own standards of beauty, and the shape, size, and proportion of the nose have often contributed to these ideals. We can also observe the importance of the nose in art, literature, and other remnants of ancient civilisations.

Identification of facial ‘landmarks’ and computing the distance between them has been one of the key ingredients of facial recognition, which is widely used around the world to recognise and identify faces, in biometric-based security services, and in a wide variety of other day-to-day applications – including, importantly, surveillance.

Computational methodologies that can automate these measurements to be faster and more efficient have been developed in recent years and are widely used. For example, the ‘DigiYatra’ application developed by the Government of India and launched in December 2022 is widely used in major airports in India to authenticate passengers’ check-ins.

What the genes behind the human nose?

A recent study – published in Communications Biology, led by researchers from the University College London and Fudan University and with contributions from researchers across the world – used 2D images and measures of the distance between facial landmarks, computed in an automated fashion, in over 6,000 Latin American individuals as the basis for a genetic association study.

This way, they identified 42 new genetic loci associated with the human nose. (A ‘locus’, plural ‘loci’, is the position of a particular gene on the human chromosome.) Of these, 26 could be replicated in other populations, including Asians, Europeans, and Africans. One of these loci included a location called 1q32.3 (short for chromosome 1, short arm, locus 32.3), which is associated with the height of the human nose.

This genetic locus was previously shown to have been contributed by the Neanderthals. The present study adds to this evidence, suggesting that specific variants in the genetic loci are associated with midface height. This chromosomal locus encodes for a gene named activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3) .

The strongest association for the genetic loci indeed came from a regulatory region in the ATF3 gene. While the researchers have not suggested that the ATF3 gene is directly involved in the development of the skull, this gene is regulated by a gene called FOXL2, which has been implicated in the development of the skull and the face. Additionally, mutations in the FOXL2 gene can result in facial abnormalities.

Why does the shape of the nose matter?

The shape of the nose could have evolutionary implications in the better survival of humans, possibly helping them adapt to climates prevalent in the time of our ancestors. There is also speculation that changes in the shape and the size of the nose could have affected the landmark’s ability to maintain certain temperatures and humidity within.

Prehistoric humans and Neanderthals are believed to have interbred, exchanging genetic material and contributing to the genomes of present-day humans, thus shaping human destiny to this day. This is also known as the introgression of genomic sequences. Researchers have estimated that this interbreeding occurred approximately 70,000-100,000 years ago, leaving a lasting genetic legacy in the human population.

The evolutionary geneticist Svante Pääbo made significant contributions to the study of Neanderthal genomes and the transfer of genetic information (introgression) between the archaic, long-extinct hominids, the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, and modern day humans. (Denisovans are a subspecies of archaic humans who lived until around 30,000 years ago.)

Dr. Pääbo’s efforts to understand archaic hominid interbreeding have earned him recognition in the scientific community, and won him the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 2022. He has provided key insights into the evolutionary history of our species and the genetic contributions we have inherited from our ancient relatives.

Swedish scientist Svante Paabo poses with a replica of a Neanderthal skeleton at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, October 3, 2022.
| Photo Credit:
Matthias Schrader/AP

Do we have other genes from Neanderthals?

The present study adds to a growing and significant body of evidence on diseases and traits in modern humans that have been influenced by genomic loci from the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

A mass of emerging evidence suggests that the Neanderthal genomes could also have contributed to the way we respond to pathogens as well as defined our risk of developing a number of skin and blood conditions and some cancers (like liver cancer), and even depression.

How the origin of humankind in Africa, their subsequent migrations out of the continent and their interbreeding with the Neanderthals, the Denisovans and other archaic hominids, who are today extinct, have together contributed to different human traits is an active area of research.

In fact, one recent study published in Nature analysed human population diversity in Africa and reported that early humans diverged in Africa from multiple, rather than single, ancestral roots and that descendants from only some of those roots could have interbred with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans. Different global populations therefore have varying degrees of the genetic components from these archaic human species.

How can this knowledge help us?

By understanding the genetic interactions between them and us, scientists can better comprehend the genetic diversity and adaptability of our species.

The continued exploration of this interbreeding event and its consequences for human biology and health represents an exciting frontier in genomic research. As more studies contribute to the extant evidence in this field, our understanding of the interplay between archaic and modern human genomes will continue to deepen.

This knowledge could in turn offer new avenues for the study and treatment of various diseases, as well as build a greater appreciation for the intricate tapestry of human genetic heritage.

The authors are scientists at the CSIR Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR-IGIB). The opinions expressed here are personal.

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