Musk Assures Netanyahu He Is Against Antisemitism

(Bloomberg) -- Elon Musk opened up a discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by staunchly defending himself against accusations of antisemitism.

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“Obviously I’m against antisemitism. I’m against anti-anything that promotes hate and conflict,” Musk said in a broadcast conversation with Netanyahu at Tesla Inc.’s offices in Fremont, California, and streamed on X, the social media platform owned by Musk and formerly known as Twitter.

Musk has been in an escalating row with the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group he accuses of undermining X’s advertising revenue. The ADL has, together with other civil rights watchdogs, highlighted a rise in extremist content on the platform after Musk took it over last year and fired most of its staff. Musk earlier this month threatened to sue the ADL and has liked X posts that used a “BantheADL” hashtag.

Netanyahu said he hoped Musk would find it “within the confines of the First Amendment to limit antisemitism and hate,” acknowledging that it’s “not an easy task.”

Musk said that “on any given day, there are 100 million to 200 million posts to the system,” and said while it was hard to “police that in advance,” he could take steps to “deamplify. We’re not going to promote hate speech because probably that’s not what people are going to want hear,” he said.

Earlier this month Musk said he was “pro free speech” but against “antisemitism of any kind.”

Netanyahu was in Silicon Valley before the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this week, seeking to convince the world’s top tech executives that he is not a pariah despite months of political unrest in Israel. The prime minister’s reputation as a pro-business leader has taken a beating due to his efforts to weaken Israel’s judiciary, which have sparked months of protests that are supported by many of the country’s tech entrepreneurs.

Israeli tech workers living in the Bay Area held a demonstration Monday against the judicial reforms to coincide with Netanyahu’s visit. Several hundred demonstrators gathered at the airport and hotel in California when the prime minister arrived, shouting “shame” and “democracy” as his convoy passed.

Speaking to Musk in a wide-ranging discussion, Netanyahu said Israel “was, is and always will be a robust democracy” but said he would press on with a plan to change how judges are selected. The Israeli leader called the country’s judiciary “the most activist” in the world, but said he would seek a “happy middle” on curtailing its power.

AI Disruption

The prime minister met Musk as part of a full day of events centered on artificial intelligence as he sought to showcase Israel’s AI potential. His agenda included a tour of a Tesla factory and a ride in an autonomous vehicle. As he departed Tel Aviv, Netanyahu told reporters on the tarmac he was courting the world’s richest man to invest in Israel’s AI startups in the coming years.

Investors Stand by Israel’s Tech Startups, for Now

Ahead of the meeting, an Israeli official traveling with the prime minister sought to downplay the tensions with Musk, saying the planning for the meeting began before the antisemitism controversy erupted earlier this month. Netanyahu does not view Musk as harboring any antisemitic views, the official said.

After Netanyahu asked how Musk could prevent “armies of bots” from amplifying hate speech on X, the entrepreneur said the platform will move toward requiring a small monthly payment.

“This is a super tough problem,” Musk responded, saying that it’s the “single most important reason” he’s shifting to a monthly payment system. A bot costs a fraction of a penny to operate, he said, under X’s current system, which offers both free and paid tiers. Making someone pay a few dollars to use the service, he said, makes “the effective cost of bots” very high, and would require bot operators to use a new payment method every time they wanted to create a new one.

Later, during a round-table discussion about AI, OpenAI co-founder and President Greg Brockman said the startup hasn’t faced pressure to deploy its technology quickly so much as it has to protect users’ privacy.

“What the market actually pushes us against is when it comes into conflict with other values, for example privacy,” he said.

Brockman noted that when OpenAI initially launched its application programming interfaces for its GPT models, it planned to monitor and record “everything” so data would be logged and could be looked at if issues arose.

“People hate that,” he said. “You kind of want that for everyone else, but for yourself you want privacy.”

When OpenAI released a version of ChatGPT for businesses in August, it promoted its adherence to a slew of privacy safeguards, such as data encryption and a guarantee that the startup won’t use information from customers to develop its technology.

Netanyahu and Musk have been in contact since 2018, when the Israeli prime minister hosted the SpaceX founder in his Jerusalem residence, according to an Israeli official, who spoke on condition on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the relationship. Netanyahu and Musk have kept in touch and share views on the potential benefits - as well as risks - of artificial intelligence, the official said. Netanyahu spokesperson Topaz Luk said the prime minister and Musk previously discussed the emerging technology several times by phone.

During Monday’s discussion, Netanyahu expressed concerns that artificial intelligence left unchecked could lead to the “disruption of democracy, the manipulation of minds, crime syndicates, AI-driven wars.” Netanyahu said he’ll be drafting Israel’s AI policy in the coming months.

(Updates with comments from OpenAI president from 14th paragraph.)

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