RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said Israel’s tech sector was “a threat to the world, not just Palestinians” Friday, after a report accused an Israeli firm of manipulating public opinion.
The Wednesday report by an international consortium of journalists led by French non-profit Forbidden Stories said a private Israeli firm sought to influence more than 30 elections around the world through hacking, sabotage and spreading disinformation.
“Israeli repression tech is a threat to the world, not just Palestinians,” said a statement from the BDS movement, which calls for a boycott of Israel over what it describes as the “oppression” of Palestinians.
BDS “reiterates the call to impose an immediate military embargo” on Israel, the statement said, calling for “cutting US military funding and banning trade in Israeli arms and spyware.”
The firm, dubbed “Team Jorge” by the team of investigating journalists, was led by former Israeli special forces operative Tal Hanan, who has denied “any wrongdoing.”
Undercover journalists posed as potential clients to gather information on the firm’s methods and capabilities.
Other similar companies have been named in media reports or sanctioned by Western governments in recent years over their role in trying to influence elections and public opinion.
Notorious British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica — since shut down — was allegedly used to develop software steering voters toward Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential election.
Following the latest revelations, Israel might also face increased pressure to rein in its cutting-edge cyberware and technology sector which was spotlighted in another media investigation led by Forbidden Stories in 2021.
It highlighted how the powerful Israeli-made Pegasus spyware had been sold by the cyber intelligence company NSO Group Technologies to governments and used against at least 50,000 people around the world.
Some of the alleged targets included human rights defenders and religious leaders, as well as politicians such as French President Emmanuel Macron.
Forbidden Stories is a collaborative platform set up in 2017 at the initiative of French documentary maker Laurent Richard, with the support of Reporters Without Borders, and brings together more than 30 different media outlets from around the world.
Saudi Arabia ‘poised for major global media role,’ says Telfaz11 CEO Alaa Fadan
Studio’s partnership with NEOM to see 9 nine TV and film productions in next 3 years
Updated 10 June 2023
DUBAI: Saudi studio Telfaz11 and the Kingdom’s media production hub NEOM signed a deal this month to cooperate on at least nine TV and film productions over the next three years.
“We are thrilled to embark on this partnership with NEOM and to be part of their mission to create a new world-class media hub in Saudi Arabia,” Telfaz11’s CEO Alaa Fadan told Arab News recently.
The partnership “reemphasizes Telfaz11’s core vision and DNA of investing in the creative culture” and provides the company with “new opportunities for growth and innovation,” he added.
Two feature films and one TV series are already in development, and a few other projects have been identified as well, he said.
Telfaz11 has “a rich slate of projects mapped out for the next three years” and will work with NEOM to select which projects would be rolled out as part of the deal, Fadan said.
Last year, the Saudi Film Commission announced the Daw funding program dedicated to supporting local productions and talent.
This year Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Development Fund launched a $234-million Film Sector Financing Program as well as a $100-million film sector fund to foster the growth of domestic media.
The Kingdom has made remarkable strides in recent years, driven by visionary initiatives focusing on developing the media and entertainment sectors, says the CEO.
In 2021, Saudi Arabia drew $238 million in box-office revenue compared to only $112 million in 2019, according to research firm Omdia.
Beyond production, the company would also be setting up an office in NEOM by the end of the year, which is “part of a strategic move that will facilitate our vision for expansion in the Kingdom,” he said.
Telfaz11’s physical presence in NEOM will allow it to “increase collaboration with other industry partners, enhance knowledge sharing, and access state-of-the-art facilities,” he added.
Lastly, the two entities will work on “multi-disciplinary talent development programs” as part of the partnership, “creating a vibrant talent pool across the value chain and strong career opportunities for graduates,” Fadan said.
They will work with national and international experts to devise programs across different areas of film production including scriptwriting, on-set production training and more.
As the streaming environment becomes more cluttered, audiences are looking for local, quality content making it ever more important for the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia in particular, to foster local talent, he said.
“We are at the epicenter of a massive investment in streaming, driving MENA’s explosive entertainment growth and we see this driving an increase in investment in local content,” said Fadan.
“As the demand for quality content rises, it reinforces the importance of our work and motivates us to continually raise the bar in terms of creativity and production value,” he added.
Telfaz11 has witnessed the streaming boom firsthand. It was among the first local companies to sign a deal with Netflix. In 2020, the streaming giant inked a pact to produce eight films by Telfaz11 after a successful partnership on the studio’s short-film collection “Six Windows in the Desert.”
For Fadan, the partnership with Netflix “presents a significant milestone in promoting local storytelling and elevating the visibility of Saudi and Middle Eastern content worldwide.”
It is, however, not restricting itself to only Netflix and taking a “versatile approach to content creation and distribution” that includes partnering with various platforms, to cater to a wider set of audiences with a diverse content mix, he explained.
YouTube and other social media platforms are important to the company, which has nearly 3.5 million subscribers on the video-sharing channel as well as a partnership with MBC’s streaming platform Shahid for digital content.
“Our collaborations with these platforms exemplify our commitment to reaching audiences through various channels,” Fadan said.
Since its inception in 2011, he added, Telfaz11 has been on “a mission to cultivate the voice of Saudi and empower local creative talent in the region.”
The studio has been working to “unlock the potential of Saudi Arabia’s creative economy, and generate new opportunities for actors, filmmakers, screenwriters, and content creators,” he added.
The Kingdom’s creative economy is poised for success with major investments in the media, film and entertainment industries.
“This development has sparked a surge in the demand for quality content, creating opportunities for production companies like ours, Telfaz11, to contribute to the burgeoning film industry in the Kingdom,” Fadan said.
More than 30 productions have been shot in NEOM alone over the past 18 months, including “Desert Warrior,” “Dunki” and “Rise of the Witches.”
Last year, the Saudi Film Commission announced the Daw funding program dedicated to supporting local productions and talent. And this year Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Development Fund launched a $234-million Film Sector Financing Program as well as a $100-million film sector fund to foster the growth of domestic media.
These are just a few of the initiatives announced by the Kingdom, and as a result, “Saudi Arabia is poised to play a significant role in the global media landscape, both in content creation and production,” Fadan said.
“The country has made remarkable strides in recent years, driven by visionary initiatives focusing on developing the media and entertainment sectors,” he added.
In 2021, Saudi drew $238 million in box-office revenue compared to only $112 million in 2019, according to research firm Omdia.
Moreover, box-office revenues in the Kingdom are forecast to surpass $1 billion by 2020 making it one of the world’s top-20 cinema markets, according to another report.
“The combination of diverse storytelling, technological advancements, and increased international collaborations positions Saudi Arabia as an emerging force within the global media landscape,” said Fadan.
UAE’s AI office and Google launch quarterly AI Majlis
Event will bring together experts from government, academia, public and private sectors to discuss public policy on AI
Updated 09 June 2023
DUBAI: The UAE’s Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Applications office has partnered with Google to host AI Majlis.
Held every quarter, AI Majlis will gather officials from the government, academia, and the public and private sectors to discuss AI-related public policy.
The first AI Majlis session, which focused on responsible innovation, featured a panel discussion between Omar Sultan Al-Olama, minister of state for artificial intelligence, digital economy and remote work applications, and Karan Bhatia, global head of public policy and government relations at Google. It was moderated by Becky Anderson, anchor and managing editor of CNN Abu Dhabi.
Al-Olama asserted the UAE’s emergence as a success story in the field of digital transformation.
The UAE has created a model of excellence and competitiveness across various fields, reflecting its proactive approach in embracing a comprehensive vision for the promising sector of digital transformation, he said.
Commenting on the launch of AI Majlis, he said: “These gatherings facilitate the sharing of challenges and opportunities, enabling stronger partnerships in the development of ideas for advancing promising sectors such as AI, digital economy, and future technologies.”
Bhatia said: “We have an opportunity to make AI more helpful for people, for businesses, for communities, for everyone.
“Building this transformational technology responsibly must be a collective effort that involves researchers, social scientists, industry experts, governments, and people. There is so much we can accomplish and so much we must get right — together.”
Future AI Majlis sessions will include topics such as the future of work, sustainability and education. The next session will take place in November 2023.
Dubai government invests in AI to improve efficiency and service delivery
New Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence will train 1,000 government employees, launch pilot projects
Updated 09 June 2023
LONDON: Dubai launched on Thursday an artificial intelligence center to help government entities embrace cutting-edge technologies across key sectors and boost efficiency and service delivery across public services.
Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, unveiled the Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence at the Emirates Towers.
“Dubai’s government will be the best in the world in deploying artificial intelligence within its various entities,” said Sheikh Hamdan.
“This new center is the first step in achieving this goal and developing future services to keep pace with rapid technological advancements.”
We have launched the ‘Dubai Centre for Artificial Intelligence’ to accelerate our efforts to deploy AI to create exceptional government services. I have directed the formation of task forces at all Dubai government entities to develop AI-driven applications that will enable us to… pic.twitter.com/0NuogWeZtt
Located in Area 2071, the new specialist center will train 1,000 government employees from more than 30 government bodies on the uses of generative AI.
It will also help launch dozens of pilot projects and improve government services, as well as increase the productivity of employees and support over 20 local and global advanced technology startups.
During the launch, Sheikh Hamdan encouraged Dubai’s government employees from all departments to embrace generative AI tools, enhancing productivity and optimizing government services.
“We aim to see practical applications of generative AI technologies in our government sector,” he said.
“Technological development is moving very rapidly, and in Dubai, we are determined to be just as fast in testing and harnessing it for the benefit of society. We want new AI-powered government tools to have a clear impact and tangible results.”
Organizations like the Dubai Future Foundation, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Dubai Media Council, and Dubai Digital Authority will supervise the introduction of the center’s AI objectives and outcomes.
The DCAI plans to utilize AI technology to conduct simulations, study the changes and effects of new policies and legislation, predict the results of various scenarios, evaluate the effectiveness of programs, and support intricate decision-making.
Moreover, the center will employ data analysis tools to uncover trends and insights, empowering government offices to make well-informed decisions.
The launch of the DCAI comes at a time when the generative AI sector in the Gulf is expected to expand its contribution to the region’s economy from $10 billion in 2022 to $150 billion in the coming years.
Meta previews generative AI tools planned for its platforms
Tools include ChatGPT-like chatbots for Messenger and WhatsApp, text-based image editing and emoji sticker creation
Updated 09 June 2023
NEW YORK: Facebook owner Meta Platforms on Thursday gave employees a sneak peek at a series of AI tools it was building, including ChatGPT-like chatbots planned for Messenger and WhatsApp that could converse using different personas.
Company executives speaking at an all-hands meeting also demonstrated a coming Instagram feature that could modify user photos via text prompts and another that could create emoji stickers for messaging services, according to a summary of the session provided by a Meta spokesperson.
The showcase provided the first concrete indications of how the social media giant is planning to make its own generative AI tools available to its 3.8 billion monthly users, months after competitors like Google, Microsoft and Snapchat announced a rush of launches of such tools in their products.
Meta has yet to roll out any consumer-facing generative AI products, although it announced last month that it was working with a small group of advertisers to test tools that use AI to generate image backgrounds and variations of written copy for their ad campaigns.
The company has also been reorganizing its AI divisions and spending heavily to whip its infrastructure into shape, after determining early last year that it lacked the hardware and software capacity to support its AI product needs.
Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told employees at the session on Thursday that advancements in generative AI in the last year had now made it possible for the company to build the technology “into every single one of our products.”
In addition to the consumer-facing tools, executives at the meeting also announced a productivity assistant for employees called Metamate that could answer queries and perform tasks based on information gleaned from internal company systems.
Palestinian journalist seriously wounded by rubber bullet
Updated 09 June 2023
RAMALLAH: Moamen Sumreen, 22, a Palestinian journalist who was covering the Israeli raid, was seriously wounded after being hit in the head by a rubber bullet, his family told AFP.
Israeli troops on Thursday demolished the West Bank home of a Palestinian accused of carrying out twin bombings in Jerusalem last November that killed two Israelis, including a teenager.
His uncle Mohammed Sumreen, also a journalist, said they had been among a group of reporters watching events unfold from the roof of a nearby building.
“Throughout the coverage, the soldiers were shining laser lights on us, targeting us with gas bombs and firing live bullets in our direction,” he said.
“Moamen wanted to change his position, he stood up and was directly hit by a bullet in the area under the ear,” he said, noting that Sumreen was wearing a jacket marked “press” when he came under fire.
The Israeli army said that the incident was “under review.”
The army used explosives to make the first floor apartment in Ramallah where Aslam Faroukh lived uninhabitable, an AFP journalist reported.
Faroukh was arrested in December and accused of carrying out the November 23 bombings at Jerusalem bus stops that killed a 15-year-old Israeli-Canadian and an Israeli in his 50s. They were the first bombings to have targeted Israeli civilians since 2016.
“The home was demolished after an appeal to the Supreme Court against the demolition was rejected,” the army said in a statement.
Originally from Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, where he held an Israeli residency permit, Faroukh had lived in Ramallah for some years.
According to the army, he is alleged to have acted alone, “identifying with the Daesh (Daesh group) organization.”
Israel, which has occupied the West Bank since 1967, routinely demolishes the homes of individuals it blames for deadly attacks on Israelis.
Human rights activists say the policy amounts to collective punishment, as it can render non-combatants, including children, homeless.
But Israel says the practice is effective in deterring some Palestinians from carrying out attacks.
Faroukh’s mother, Um Aslam, told AFP that the demolition would only “increase their hatred and (desire for) revenge.”