AI center in the middle east !?
Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.
Because the future of AI is tightly bound with the future of us all, and because the biggest of the questions raised by that future cannot and should not be answered by any single nation in isolation, one obvious question is whether an international AI center should be built. A center where researchers, technicians, philosophers, etc. from many nations can work together on specifications for benevolent AI systems, and various implementations of those benevolent specifications. And if the answer is yes, then where to build it? It may seem utopian or downright crazy, but the most natural answer is to build it where it will have the most impact for the peaceful co-existence between nations, and between nations and AI. And where the existential questions about our future would be analyzed geographically close to the ones about our past. Namely, on the Eastern side of Jerusalem, in the West Bank.
Hate Killed My Son
In our reference to the Free Energy Principle in the article How We Form Political Opinions: An AI Viewpoint, we mentioned the concept of a Markov blanket in a Bayesian network. The term Markov blanket was introduced by Judea Pearl in his 1988 book "Probabilistic Reasoning in Intelligent Systems: Networks of Plausible Inference". Judea Pearl is an accomplished computer scientist who was awarded the ACM Turing Award, the highest honor in Computer Science, in 2011. He is also the father of the (Wall Street Journal) journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and beheaded by Al Qaida in Pakistan in 2002. Judea Pearl has been working for a reconciliation between Muslims and Jews, and when asked why he was doing it his answer was ... "Hate killed my son. Therefore I am determined to fight hate". Daniel's picture is on the right.
As opposed to Judea Pearl, many people in the Middle East have reached the conclusion that peace is impossible. And given the current coverage of the issue by the world media, that seems to be the case. At the root of the conflict lies the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians. There are other proposals, but only two practical alternatives vie for acceptance: a 2-state solution or a 1-state solution with some sort of federation between the two sides.
Palestinians legitimately aspire to having a state of their own, and most of the world agrees to that. But it takes just a few seconds for a reasonable person, looking at the map of the Middle East and the potential borders between Israel and a possible Palestinian state, to understand why Israelis are reluctant to sign up to a 2-state solution. Israel, even with the West Bank included, is a narrow sliver of land surrounded by large countries controlled by hostile governments. Take the West Bank out, and you are left with a 2-minute helicopter ride from the West Bank to the Mediterranean sea. No government in Israel will agree to such borders, without some yet unknown ways to eliminate the animosity. The map below shows the dilemma clearly.
Could an AI Center make a difference?
At the end of World War II the Marshall plan was implemented by the U.S. with great success. Instead of punishing Germany with war reparations, the plan lifted Germany out of destruction and despair by investing in the German economy. There have been investments by the industrialized nations into the West Bank before, but to make a difference, a bigger scale would be needed. A scale of both quality and quantity. By investing into a world AI center on the West Bank now, together with investments aimed at leveling the educational and standard of living differences between Israel and the West bank, the entire area may be given a chance to a prosperous peaceful future, and provide a blueprint for the rest of the Middle East.
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians are resourceful people, and given large financial incentives from the rest of the world, they could make it work. There would be no need to solve the 1-state versus 2-states problem right away. With a happier population in both places, the 1-state versus 2-states dilemma would become temporarily irrelevant. That would allow for children on both sides to be raised without suspicion and mistrust of each other, for a healing period of time. And when these children will enjoy economic prosperity, the politics of a 1-state versus 2-states may be re-oriented to the point where some new economic and political arrangements would be feasible, the details of which may not be reachable by us now. This "dodging" of a difficult problem, by solving more accessible parts of it first, happens all the time in science.
There is also a simple human explanation for why the Middle East has been a flashpoint of unhappiness, anger, and violence. Young men need affirmation, they need society to acknowledge their presence. We always knew that. If they do not get a positive affirmation (via a solid education and a satisfying job), they will reach for the negative one: they'll reach for the Kalashnikov. And society will see them on TV, after having acted out their need. Years of governmental mismanagement and religious strife have left the Middle East in a quagmire and its young men with no positive ideals to dream of; young women are in an even more precarious situation. A Marshall plan for the West Bank, aimed among other things at building a world AI center, and drawing people from many participating countries, could provide that needed affirmation for the youth of the West Bank, Iran and the Arab countries, and be the means of bringing peace to the wider Middle East.
There is one basic fact which removes some of the more wide-eyed and sensational aspects of building an AI center in the West Bank. The seeds have been planted already, as it can be seen in the extraordinary success Israel has had in high-tech in general and in AI in particular. This already available Israeli technological edge could be further advanced by drawing in the Palestinian youth, first by investing heavily in STEM education in the Palestinian areas, and second by drawing top talent from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Arab world, and Iran. Finally, the center would be fundamentally dependent on and staffed by scientists and engineers from the AI-advanced parts of the world: U.S., Europe, China, Russia, Japan, Canada, India, in particular. Israeli advances in AI have already proven useful to the world at large: the BriefCam video analytics system developed in Israel was used to identify the bombers of the Boston marathon, has been used by the Norwegian police to find mass murderer Anders Breivik, and revealed many operational aspects of the Brussels attacks.
If you watched the video in its entirety, you have noticed that it ends with an interesting explanation of sorts. In Israel, many of the future technology entrepreneurs get their education and their tenacity in the army. The military service in Israel is obligatory, with young men doing active duty for 36 months and women doing 24 months. There is no question that this uniform participation, regardless of the financial status of conscripts, has a very healthy effect on the Israeli society, binding its people together, creating friendship and a unity of purpose. The experience which the soldiers acquire in the army is extraordinarily valuable for their job prospects, more valuable than University diplomas, with the more prestigious units of the army producing talent for some of the best jobs in the Israeli industry. If a powerful AI center is to be built in Israel, it would clearly require sophisticated military and intelligence protection, and as we will see below, that protection in itself could lead to a strengthening of the peace prospects, if it were composed of both Israelis and Palestinians training together.
Examples of projects
You may think that all this is utopia, and that bold ideas are impossible to implement in this part of the world. But this is not so. There already exist many such bold ideas, each of which is contributing to the larger goal. Even the Gaza strip, where the economical and political reality are harsher than in the West Bank, is beginning to attract attention and such bold ideas. Here is one for example:
Running away from a problem only increases the distance from the solution.The economy of the West Bank is already being boosted by the funding of bold initiatives. The goal is not to just satisfy local markets, but to produce goods of high quality, destined for exports. These initiatives sometimes come from unexpected participants, here is a Japanese investment in the ever-growing Jericho Industrial Park. It is funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency. To the credit of the bold Japanese vision, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken a personal interest in the area and has visited Jericho in person.
The Myth of an Historical Hatred
Islam and Judaism both teach us that each person is a universe, for whoever saves a single life, it is as if he or she has saved the entire humanity, just as whoever has killed a single person, it is as if they have killed the entire humanity. As human beings, we are each, wherever we are, the guarantors of each other's destiny. As many other righteous gentiles who risked their lives to save the Jews in the midst of the Holocaust, the brave Muslims who in different parts of the world rescued them were acting on the basis of this human responsibility.
One of the big fallacies that has somehow taken root in recent times is that there is a historical hatred between Jews and Muslims, and that the current tension has its roots in that historical hatred. But this is not so. When looked at from a wider historical perspective, the current tension is just a bleep. Jews flourished under Muslim rule for many centuries. Much of the Middle Ages represented a "Golden Age" for the Jews living in Muslim countries, at times when the rest of the World was going through turmoil. Jews have suffered much more hardship under countries with Christian majorities than in countries with Muslim majorities. When President Obama mentioned this historical truth in one of his speeches, it generated an uproar in the U.S.. As we make the point repeatedly in our articles, it is dangerous if we do not respect the truth in the age of AI, however unorthodox or uncomfortable that truth is. The willingness to address and combat the negative trends that have nourished falsities and conflict between Jews and Muslims has led to numerous initiatives, by individuals and by organizations. Project Aladin is an example.
A quick-reaction elite military force
It would be nice to dream of a time free of armed conflict, but at the very beginning at least, an AI center in the West Bank would need military protection. It would undoubtedly make sense for that military presence to mirror the multinational composition of the center itself. On one hand, it would include military participation from Israel, the West Bank, and neighboring Jordan. On the other hand, it would include participation from Iran and the nations of the Arab world. And just as importantly, it would include substantial numbers of military personnel from the countries who would contribute the bulk of the AI scientists: U.S., Europe, China, Russia, Japan, Canada, India.
What would be the charter and the characteristics of such a military presence? First, such a military presence would be composed of elite forces, elite in many senses of the world, not just in standard military training. Members of the force would be multi-lingual, and they would dedicate the majority of their time to training together and sharing their expertize. They would be briefed and taught elements of AI-based warfare and countermeasures to such warfare. They would be trained in cybersecurity. They could be used not just for the protection of the AI center, but in assisting governments of the Middle East with maintaining their stability. They would be well rewarded financially for their tour of duty, and return to their respective countries to positions of high value and prestige, the same way the members of the elite units of the Israeli army return to civilian life. They would be the blue dot's Unit 8200.
Would peace in Israel solve everything?
One obvious question is whether, even in the case of our utopia becoming reality and an AI center be the conduit to peace in Israel, peace in the larger Middle East would follow. What about the conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia?
First, a successful and intellectually vibrating AI center bringing peace to Israel would drastically alter the mindset in the Middle East, so it is unlikely that conflict could continue much longer after that kind of reversal. Secondly, just as the hate between Muslims and Jews is not historical and not deep, the Shiite-Sunni schism is even less deep. Yes, it started very soon, right after the death of Prophet Muhammad, in the year 632. But in reality the two sides lived in peace side by side throughout most of their history. The schism only reappeared seriously after 1978, when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran on the heels of a massive revolt against the Shah, and it could vanish just as quickly.
The Golden Age of the Middle East
The Middle East sits at the crossroads of 4 large economic blocks and AI powerhouses: EU, Russia, China, and India. The Silk Road that China is interested in building will be connected to many countries of the region and establish the ground link between them. Israel, the West Bank and by extension the entire Middle East would experience an extraordinary burst of wealth and creativity. (On the left is a picture of Jericho, taken by the correspondents of The Martian Times when they visited Earth in the year 2072.)
we may live in a world in which this should never happen again:
and the firefighters who are going up the stairs while the towers are in flames)