AI False Idols

AI is considered omnipotent. It is nothing short of godlike in its power. It combines Zeus with the Oracle of Delphi. But this is a dangerous way of looking at AI. As we attribute more divine characteristics to this be-all, end-all technology, we increasingly shrug off our own responsibility and entrust it to these false idols. Beyond the ethical and philosophical aspects, attributing too much power to AI and trusting it to take the best and most rational decisions can prove fatal. 

Israeli Intelligence’s AI Failure 

Much has been said by critics and the Israeli government itself, about the massive intelligence failure of Israel’s Department of Defense in preventing the October 7 Hamas attacks.

At the purely tactical level and all other considerations aside, the attacks that Hamas unleashed against Israel serve as a warning that AI cannot be trusted blindly. And for as much as artificial intelligence can do, human failure can be the detriment to the most sophisticated systems.

AI is not all-powerful and it can be outmaneuvered. The brutal surprise attack launched by Hamas in recent days proved not only to be a colossal failure for the Israeli security apparatus, which was caught sleeping on the job thereby causing unprecedented humiliation for the entire Israeli political-military establishment. 

Israel has long been lauded for its comprehensive military and defense programs. The Iron Dome anti-missile system, the Mossad, the Aman (Directorate of Military Intelligence), the Unit 8200, electronic and electromagnetic signals espionage and counterintelligence, and the Shin Bet, state internal security and counterintelligence, have long been considered some of the most effective programs in the world. Before these recent attacks, the estimated overall effectiveness of the Iron Dome was rated 95 percent.

However, this time, it was unable to intercept the thousands of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, which were thus able to hit random targets and cause hundreds of deaths and injuries. It appears that Israeli intelligence has placed too much trust in AI’s capabilities to run their security. Unable to predict the sudden attack of Hamas, the Israeli secret services failed to live up to their reputation: the Mossad, espionage abroad, the Aman (Directorate of Military Intelligence), the Unit 8200, electronic and electromagnetic signals espionage and counterintelligence and the Shin Bet, state internal security and counterintelligence, failed to gather the data to foil Hamas’s attack and then to defend the territory from the militias. 

It is estimated that the Iron Dome anti-missile system was unable to stop the 4,000 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip even as it is capable of identifying 150 mm rockets and artillery shells within a range of 4 to 70 km. The system relies on algorithms (ie. artificial intelligence) that predict the trajectory of incoming enemy missiles, directing the interceptors of each battery toward the designated target in a matter of seconds. Unlike in previous conflicts with Hamas, a much lower percentage than what appears to emerge from the data currently available on the conflict that recently broke out. It seems that the system became overloaded in the face of the high number of rockets launched by Hamas. The rockets were also different and heavier than those used in previous operations. 

Apart from the rocket systems, Israel was sure that its Red Wolf, a widespread network of cameras and sensors used for mass surveillance in Gaza and the West Bank, would catch any suspicious activity before anybody had time to get to the rocket launch sites. But modern-day solutions come with modern-day problems and these remote biometric monitoring systems only had to be deactivated during an initial attack of a military base to completely disarm the program.

By placing so much confidence in the algorithms governing their Iron Dome defense systems and Red Wolf, the Israeli military made the mistake of ignoring human intelligence in their defense plans for too long.

It’s a case of Stone Age beats AI age

On the part of Israel, their first-world solutions were no match for the Stone Age approach to planning that Hamas took. 

There is evidence that shows that Hamas planned much of the attack “offline” for important and strategic reasons. A Reuters investigation has shown that Hamas managed to plan the attack with the precise goal of deceiving, not so much the Israeli human intelligence, but its highly technological systems. They realized that Israel’s security vulnerability has been, precisely, its over-reliance on technology.

In contrast, the tight-knit relations between the Hamas leaders, planning in total secrecy even with militants themselves, were entirely undetected by AI algorithms. Gen. Amir Avivi, president and founder of the Israeli Defense and Security Forum, stated that, without a foothold inside Gaza, the Israeli security services have been forced to rely increasingly on technology. Meanwhile, Hamas learned to manage Israel’s technological dominance and stopped using those technologies that could expose its plans. The Israeli general noted that the Hamas militiamen do not use telephones or computers and conduct their sensitive operations in rooms specially protected from technological espionage. Hamas leaders learned to communicate even without telephones or internet, using rudimentary methods, well known to the Sicilian mafia, using so-called pizzini—handwritten and hand-delivered messages in coded language. Hamas wasn’t just keeping their password off the internet, they were writing it on a hidden post-it.

This is not to suggest that AI has no role to play in modern warfare; it does. But, moderation in all things. While AI can be used, few organizations have managed to successfully integrate these technologies within their overall processes and ‘human’—i.e. non-digital—information gathering. 

The October 7, 2023 attacks in Israel have shown that even those organizations that placed a significant burden of their security intelligence on AI, have to reconsider that reliance and return to the proverbial drawing board with a great deal of humility.