Israel allocates NIS 30m to fund projects for AI applications in Hebrew and Arabic

Israel Innovation Authority backs 17 projects by local startups and academia to promote integration of artificial intelligence into local high-tech industry

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative image of innovation, AI, machine learning and robots (ipopba; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of innovation, AI, machine learning and robots (ipopba; iStock by Getty Images)

Israel is investing NIS 30 million ($8 million) to facilitate and advance the development of artificial intelligence applications in spoken Hebrew and Arabic.

Led by the Israel Innovation Authority, which is in charge of setting out the nation’s policy for its tech ecosystem and fostering startups, the funding will be allocated to 17 different projects in academia and industry to foster access to data and language models in both languages.

The initiative, part of the National Artificial Intelligence Plan, is meant to encourage research and development in the field of natural language processing (NLP).

NLP is the ability of a computer program to understand human language by speech and text. With the recent hype over OpenAI’s ChatGPT, a so-called large language model that uses deep learning to spit out human-like text, other startups in Israel and abroad have been quick to come out with competing AI models.

Artificial intelligence — the tech that gives computers the ability to learn — has been around since the 1950s. But over the last decade the field has enjoyed a renaissance made possible by the huge amount of data available online and the higher computational power of chips. Advances in the field over the last 10 years have enabled computers to analyze datasets and find useful patterns to solve problems, with the machine often outwitting the human brain.

While new advances and applications in the field of AI are emerging almost on a daily basis, the gap between current capabilities for Hebrew and Arabic and more common languages, such as English, is “significant,” the Israel Innovation Authority said in a statement. The project program is meant to reduce existing gaps in the Hebrew and Arabic language processing and facilitate the leap in AI applications.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Elon Musk during a live discussion on the social media platform X, at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, September 18, 2023. (X video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

In order to promote the integration of artificial intelligence into the Israeli high-tech industry and enable Israeli citizens to benefit from the fruits of this technology, we are keen to promote and advance activity in this area,” said Israel Innovation Authority CEO Dror Bin. “This program is crucial for realizing Israel’s unique data potential in Hebrew and Arabic, facilitating the adoption of artificial intelligence in the industry, and advancing innovation in Israel.”

“Such infrastructure will lead to significant and open applications for the benefit of Israeli residents and enable companies developing products in this field to sell both domestically and internationally,” he added.

In recent months, industry leaders and tech entrepreneurs have raised concerns that Israel is bound to miss the AI wave and needs to implement a long-term strategy to allocate significant amounts of money and resources to boost education and academic research, encourage startups, and provide the infrastructure and cheap computational power needed to run the AI models.

The government, however, has been more focused on advancing its contentious judicial overhaul, which has been creating political uncertainty for local investments, while the world economy is grappling with a downturn. In addition, many Israeli entrepreneurs with an idea for an AI startup have been setting up their new company outside Israel to avoid the current turmoil that has caused a drop in investments in Israeli tech companies.

As part of the projects that were selected for the initiative is Israel’s Verbit, a hybrid AI-based and human transcription and captioning software company, which will work on a transcription and summarization model for clinical and business applications. Clalit Health Services will create a large, international-level database that combines visual data with written interpretation of the image while preserving data integrity.

Briya, an Israel-based patient exchange platform will develop and provide a language model for analyzing medical texts in Hebrew combined with English. Other project partners include Assuta Ashdod Hospital, Galilee Medical Center, Sourasky Medical Center Tel Aviv and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

As part of academia projects, Dr. Amos Azaria of Ariel University will develop and provide a translation algorithm that allows the use of pre-trained models in English for queries in Hebrew, as well as create an algorithm for detecting hallucinations (false positives) in Hebrew language models.

Dr. Chaya Liebeskind, computer science lecturer at the Lev Academic Center at the Jerusalem College of Technology will build a model for identifying harmful content in texts.

The advancement of the project program comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week met with billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk to discuss the risks of AI. In June, Netanyahu said he will set up a team to formulate Israel’s policy on artificial intelligence.

There are some 2,200 companies in Israel that use AI for deep tech in a variety of industries, according to data compiled by the Israel Innovation Authority.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.

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