Artificial intelligence (AI) has long been studied for its role and usage in modern warfare. The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict is no exception.
On October 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, leaving the rest of the world stunned. This was the latest flare-up in the conflict that has raged for decades. The attack was on the day of the Sukkot holiday, as well as a Sabbath day.
Since then, Israel has been swift in retaliation, with the conflict being mostly contained in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This has also gone a long way to ease concerns that the conflict could spark a wider Middle Eastern crisis.
This has led to a critical question for global onlookers: how much of a role does AI play in this conflict?
Historical Use of AI in Conflicts
Early and more basic versions of artificial intelligence have been employed in conflicts as early as the Cold War. At that time, it was used mainly by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Back then, it was used to translate essential and often confidential documents into other languages. Developing forms of image analysis were also used to better lock down targets, as well as make forecasts and analyze vast quantities of data.
AI has also been used extensively in the Russia-Ukraine conflict by both sides. However, in addition to its own resources, several allies have offered Ukraine foreign AI and technological support.
This has mostly been used for sophisticated drone technology, surveillance, and target identification. It has also been used for training purposes by using virtual reality to help train fighters and mimic combat situations. Electronic warfare has also been employed, intending to interrupt enemy communications.
Some experts believe we may now be in an AI cold war, primarily between the US and China. This mainly involves building the largest possible stock of AI arms and capacities. The conflict started during the semiconductor crisis in 2020 and, in turn, sparked the US-China trade war.
How Does Israel Use AI for Military Tactics?
Israel has spent several decades developing and strengthening its technology. As such, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are no strangers to using AI to bolster their military tactics. This is especially true for conflicts and skirmishes along the border of the Gaza Strip. Israel has dubbed this conflict as the world’s first “AI war”.
Due to Israel constantly and thoroughly monitoring the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as well as factions such as Hamas, there is always a massive amount of data coming in. As such, analysts or AI systems sometimes overlook credible threats or information due to the sheer volume of data. This could also be one of the reasons for the recent Hamas attack taking the Israeli military by surprise.
Artificial intelligence can go a long way in helping disseminate and organize this data much more efficiently. This helps contain and minimize damages and hopefully prevent further lapses. This can also go a long way in helping bring the number of casualties down.
Currently, the Israeli Defence Forces mostly use artificial intelligence to make airstrikes more efficient by more accurate selecting of targets and handling logistics. Not only this, but it can also help keep track of ammunitions, aircraft, and schedules.
They also use AI to isolate rocket launchpads and deploy and track drone flights. Furthermore, it also helps in monitoring illegal weapon shipments from states such as Lebanon and Syria, which may go toward terrorists. AI systems such as Fire Factory help with this.
Could AI be Used to Turn the Tide of the War?
This remains a pretty divided question. On one hand, Israel has been surveying the Gaza Strip for decades, which means it does have a vast trove of data, surveillance, and analysis. However, it all depends on how they use this data if they want to use AI to turn the tide of the war in their favor.
Some claim that the fact that the attack was a surprise for Israel, despite such rigorous surveillance, could mean that there is a glitch in the system somewhere. This could be a lack of organization or simply the need for a better approach to disseminating this vast data. It could also point towards surveillance standards having dropped over the Sabbath or due to the Sukkoth holiday.
Drawbacks of Using AI in the Israel-Hamas Conflict
Although both sides are using AI liberally during this conflict, some critical drawbacks remain. This mainly includes the possibility of fake images or information.
Several deepfake images about the extent and victims of the war have made their way around the internet, potentially distorting the narrative of the war. This is to generate additional support and sympathy and alter the perception of which side has the current advantage.
Some of these images come from video games and other earlier conflicts from across the world. Although they may not always be fake, where they come from remains in question.
Tools such as Stable Diffusion and DALL-E create these images. They can show signs of being fake, such as flag or other key symbols not being correct, or individuals having uncanny resemblances, almost to the point of looking identical. Otherwise, distorted features are also another giveaway.
The sheer volume of these images has made it even harder to determine the authentic ones from the AI-generated ones.
Another main disadvantage of using AI in this conflict is that, in some cases, there is very little human intervention. On occasion, this can lead to misunderstanding of the information. This means some information slides through the cracks or does not get enough weight at the right time. Sometimes, this also means the system selects the wrong targets for airstrikes.
At the end of the day, whatever AI systems generate is also entirely based on their input data. Hence, there is also a possibility that the input data Israel may have been using could have been incomplete, unclear, too vast, or simply not in the best format for the system to interpret. This may have also contributed to warnings of the attack slipping through the net.
Therefore, Israel may need to further streamline its AI systems for sensitivity and organization to maximize their capacity.
On the other hand, Hamas could potentially use AI to garner and coordinate more support from its Iran, Syria, or Lebanon-backed supporters, especially Hezbollah. It could also try to use artificial intelligence to generate as many pictures or campaigns about the conflict as possible. This could potentially be a mix of both natural and fake information.
This could result in more international support or sympathy in some cases. This is mainly because several parts of the world sympathize with the ongoing statelessness and struggles of Palestinians.
Hamas, however, may have difficulties accessing the same level of technological facilities or sophisticated tools, such as Israel, unless it has foreign backing.
Thus, unless either side uses AI for concrete moves, such as target identification and airstrikes, only propaganda is unlikely to move the needle very far in either party’s favor.