Global Minds, Local Impact: Advancing the Diaspora’s Role in Israeli AI

Source: Own work with OpenAI DALL-E
Source: Own work with OpenAI DALL-E

Intelligence has always been the source of civilization. It is what distinguishes humans as shapers of landscapes rather than mere figures within them. Today, the frontier of intelligence is being redefined by artificial intelligence, the most consequential invention humanity has ever pursued. With AI we stand on the brink of an era where all conceivable inventions can be realized. AI is the last invention humanity will ever need to make.

The significance of AI in transforming the landscape extends into the domain of national security. The nature of warfare is evolving rapidly. The future conflicts will likely be characterized by a blend of cyber and physical engagements, in which AI-powered systems will be key actors. These systems are capable of analyzing vast amounts of data to predict enemy actions and suggest optimal strategies far more quickly and accurately than human counterparts. 

Moreover, AI-driven autonomous weapons systems ranging from drones to robotic ground units can operate in environments too hazardous for human soldiers and without the direct risk to their lives. A drone armed with a gun and robust computer vision can take a perfect fatal shot every time. In light of these developments, national security strategies worldwide are increasingly focusing on integrating AI capabilities. For nations like Israel, with its strong technological sector, investing in AI for defense is not just an option but a necessity.

Israel stands out as a potential leader in the AI revolution. The nation’s unique characteristics make it an ideal candidate to not only participate in but also be a leader in the global AI industry. Historically, Jews have been at the forefront of AI research and technology, establishing leading tech companies like Google and Facebook. They continue to have core roles in pioneering organizations like OpenAI. The contributions of Jewish people have been central to the technological advancements we see today in the field of AI in particular.

While many of these trailblazers are not Israeli, Israel itself is quite rich with AI talent. Further, because of the diaspora, our nation is teeming with even greater potential, given the aliyah system. Aliyah can attract individuals of high socioeconomic and intellectual stature from the diaspora, enriching the country both with their skills and access to global networks. 

The world is marked by a resurgence of violent antisemitism in the West. Incidents of harassment against diaspora Jews signal a worrying trend. It is reminiscent of the historical persecutions that once drove Jewish populations to seek refuge in Israel. Antisemitism increases the urgency for Israel to leverage its unique position as the world’s only Jewish state.

Astonishingly, all Israeli universities compare and compete internationally as elite institutions. They offer an attractive alternative to their Western counterparts such as Harvard and MIT, which are increasingly criticized for diluting academic excellence with “new leftist” or “woke” politicized agendas. Israel’s government already recognizes the potential of young Jewish talent and subsidizes education for young immigrants. These benefits make studying here a financially attractive option as well, especially for Americans who don’t want to be saddled by massive amounts of student debt. Many of these students will come out of these programs contributing to Israel’s AI landscape. 

In Israel, it is customary for young undergraduates to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Lone soldiers, including immigrants without immediate family in Israel, receive significant support from both the government and charitable organizations. This support includes enhanced pay during their service and a substantial lump sum upon completion. Furthermore, these benefits extend to educational support with heavy subsidies available for undergraduate university education. The IDF, as the world’s sole army predominantly composed of Jewish personnel, epitomizes the enduring spirit of the Jewish people. It steadfastly defends our liberty and symbolizing the unyielding “fighting Jew”.

For AI professionals in the midst of their careers, Israel offers a thriving technological ecosystem often referred to as the “Startup Nation.” This title is well-earned, as Israel boasts the highest per capita rate of venture capital funding globally, supported by some of the most startup-friendly legislation in the world. The country’s population is not only highly intelligent but also entrepreneurial, providing a rich talent pool to draw from. Immigrants are highly valued in Israel. Here, the ethos of mutual assistance is strong and newcomers often find Israelis eager to lend support. To further facilitate integration, the government provides a comprehensive package of services for immigrants, including Hebrew language courses and tax incentives. This environment makes Israel an attractive destination for mid-career AI professionals seeking to innovate and excel in their field.

To fully capitalize on the role Jewish people have in the global AI landscape, Israel must proactively enhance its outreach to prospective students and professionals worldwide. These individuals have the potential to make substantial contributions to Israel’s growing AI ecosystem. However, there is a notable lack of awareness in the diaspora about the opportunities Israel offers in terms of education, career advancement, and entrepreneurial ventures in the AI sector. To bridge this gap, Israel needs to implement comprehensive marketing and recruitment strategies, showcasing the country’s strengths in technology and innovation. This can include international roadshows, partnerships with global academic institutions, and targeted social media campaigns to highlight the advantages of studying and working in Israel’s AI industry. With this approach, Israel can secure its place at the forefront of AI innovation.

About the Author
JJ Ben-Joseph is an oleh hadash, the founder and CEO of TensorSpace, a stealth-mode AI/ML startup, and Entrepreneur-In-Residence at AION Labs. JJ worked at the strategic venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, where he helped biosecurity and AI startups succeed with US government customers. He was also a technical contributor on drug discovery and pandemic response technologies that used AI. He's a fellow emeritus at the American Jewish Committee, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and the Foresight Institute.