18 September 2023

Netanyahu visits Elon Musk in California to discuss artificial intelligence

18 September 2023

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is starting a US trip in California to talk about technology and artificial intelligence with billionaire businessman Elon Musk.

The Israeli leader posted on Monday on Mr Musk’s social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that he plans to talk with the Tesla chief executive “about how we can harness the opportunities and mitigate the risks of AI for the good of civilisation”.

Mr Netanyahu’s high-profile visit to San Francisco comes at a time when Mr Musk is facing accusations of tolerating antisemitic messages on his social media platform, while Mr Netanyahu is confronting political opposition at home and abroad.

Protesters gathered early on Monday outside the Fremont, California factory where Tesla makes its cars.

A video livestream kicked off shortly before 9.30am local time with Mr Netanyahu and the Tesla boss. Mr Netanyahu’s official Twitter account posted that he is holding a “a one on one conversation” with Mr Musk.

The two kicked off with a joke about deepfakes and quickly launched into a discussion of artificial intelligence as both a blessing and a curse for humanity.

Mr Netanyahu told Mr Musk he hopes that within the confines of the First Amendment he can find a way to clamp down on antisemitism and other forms of hatred on his social media platform.

“I encourage you and urge you to find the balance. It’s a tough one,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Mr Musk said that with 100 million to 200 million posts on Twitter in a day, “some of those are gonna be bad”.

He then reiterated the platform’s policy to not promote or amplify hate speech. Under Mr Musk, the former Twitter changed its rules so that objectionable posts are not usually removed, but instead their visibility is limited so people have to seek it out if they want to see it. Mr Musk calls this “freedom of speech, not freedom of reach.”

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken part in nine months of demonstrations against Mr Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. Those protests have spread overseas, with groups of Israeli expats staging demonstrations during visits by Mr Netanyahu and other members of his Cabinet.

Meanwhile, the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil rights organisation, has accused Mr Musk of allowing antisemitism and hate speech to spread on Twitter, in part by amplifying the messages of neo-Nazis and white supremacists who want to ban the league by engaging with them on the platform.

In a September 4 post, Mr Musk claimed that the league was “trying to kill this platform by falsely accusing it and me of being anti-Semitic”. In other posts, he said the league was responsible for a 60% drop in revenue at Twitter.

The group met this month with Twitter’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino. Both Mr Musk and Ms Yaccarino have recently posted messages saying they oppose antisemitism.

From California, Mr Netanyahu heads to New York, where he is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly and meet US President Joe Biden and other world leaders, his office said.

They include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Mr Netanyahu says the judicial overhaul plan is needed to curb the powers of unelected judges, whom he and his allies say are liberal and overly interventionist.

Critics say his plan is a power grab that will destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and push it toward autocratic rule.

Leading figures in Israel’s influential high-tech community have played a prominent role in the protests. They say weakening the judiciary will hurt the country’s business climate and drive away foreign investment.

Israel’s currency, the shekel, has plunged in value this year in a sign of weakening foreign investment.

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