Arne O. Holm says The Story of How Green, Arctic Energy Becomes AI in Israel

BluBite datalagring Sulis
Inside this old mechanic workshop in Sulitjelma, computing power is produced for artificial intelligence in Israel. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Commentary: Are you one of many wondering where the clean, green surplus energy in the North goes? I will give you part of the answer. It is dispatched via a closed mine north of the Arctic Circle and ultimately becomes artificial intelligence (AI) in Israel. 

Les på norsk her

And artificial intelligence is a particularly important input factor in the Israeli warfare in the Gaza Strip.

Already after the war in May 2021, the Jerusalem Post newspaper wrote that Israel's war against Hamas was the world's first AI war.

Since then, this form of war, in which Israel identifies bomb targets with the help of AI, has become more advanced for use in today's war efforts.

Used in the Middle East

I have yet to find proof that the computing power from Northern Norway is part of Israel's use of AI in warfare. The involved parties say that they do not think this is the case.

However, AI's significance in a war cannot be overestimated. Experts argue whether it increased or reduced the number of murdered civilians. The civilian death count in Palestina may provide an indication.

No local employees

"A mass murder factory," penned the independent online magazine +972 Magazine about their findings after exploring the use of AI in the war in the Middle East. The magazine claims the description is a quote from a former intelligence officer of the Israeli defense.

The magazine, frequently quoted by leading international news outlets, is edited and written by both Palestinian and Israeli journalists.

Mining operations started in Sulitjelma in 1891, behind tall mountains and deep valleys. The mining lasted right up to 1991. Serving as the core of the Norwegian trade union movement, the place tells a well-known history to Norwegians. Last year, the blockbuster movie "Sulis 1907", a historical drama, premiered in Norwegian cinemas.

Crypto mining

A lesser-known fact is that mining still occurs in the historic mine's premises.

Crypto mining.

Gammelt industriområde i SulitjelmaDet gamle industriområdet i Sulitjelma.  (Foto: Arne o. Holm)
The old industrial area in Sulitjelma. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

That is not easy to spot when you enter the old, closed-down industrial area.

The German company BlueBite, behind the modern and controversial form of mining, has no employees in Sulitjelma, or Sulis, as most call it.

I did not discover it until I heard the noise of fans cooling down the data center. These fans are why crypto mining consumes so much energy. For that same reason, Norway, and especially Northern Norway, with its cheap energy, is a very attractive arena for the crypto industry.

Several large buildings were left empty after the copper mine was shut down more than 30 years ago. Some have fallen apart, like the old smelter hut. An enormous amount of broken bricks testifies to the activity that once took place in a mine that was started by Swedish owners.

In other words, foreign ownership and capital are not new concepts in Sulitjelma.

The fans are mounted on the exterior wall of a mechanical workshop built as late as 1972. The building has been cleared of contents but is still in good shape. 

Israel has the full right.
Conor Davis, BlueBite.

A German company

Inside, in a 650 square meter hall, the company BlueBite resides.

According to the Brønnøysund Register Centre, BlueBite is a foreign-owned company with its business address in Karlsruhe, Germany. A so-called NUF company – a Norwegian branch of a foreign company. The German trade register says the company deals in the "rental and sale of computing power as well as hardware and software services."

That was confirmed as I found 400 computers in shelving systems in the storage hall, in addition to several fans continuously devouring energy to cool down the computers.

This old copper mine has been given new life as a German "crypto mine."

Yet, this is not a story about crypto mining with the help of abundant access to cheap, green Norwegian electricity.

Datamaskinener for det israelske selskapet R-Stealth
The computers utilized by the Israeli company R-Stealth. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

This is the story of a few machines standing by themselves inside the hall.

"We have expanded our operations to also include artificial intelligence, AI," explains Swiss Conor Davis when I call him.

"This is a new venture for us. The development of AI also needs a lot of computing power."

Agreement with Israeli company

Conor Davis is one of four employees and owners of the company BlueBite. Davis is from Switzerland. Two other owners are German, while the last is Ukrainian.

People who live in Sulitjelma say the owners are rarely seen. Perhaps once a month. The machines essentially take care of themselves. When I spoke to Conor Davis the other day, he was in Bodø, heading to Sulitjelma.

"We have an agreement with an Israeli company," confirms Conor Davis.

No local ripple effects.

I was given the same information when I visited the old mining facility in May. Back then, however, there was "peace" in the Middle East, and I did not know that AI was part of Israel's military toolbox.

"Things are progressing a bit slowly right now," Davis adds.

"Several of the employees in the Israeli company have been drafted for military service."

The computing power Conor Davis and BlueBite are producing in Sulis becomes artificial intelligence through an Israeli company called R-Stealth.

"I think they have changed the name now, but I cannot remember the new name," says Davis.

He confirms that BlueBite is still selling computing power to the company.

R-Stealth's website says, "We are un-stealth'd," with a link to another company. Nonetheless, I am choosing to use the original name, as it is the one Davis uses.

Ståle Indregård of Sulitjelma Industrial Park believes there is a flaw in the political system allowing companies like BlueBite to use cheap, clean, Norwegian energy without any ripple effects. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Not 100 percent sure

Conor Davis does not believe that the computing power they sell to Israel is part of the Israeli warfare in the Gaza Strip.

"The company is likely too small for that," he thinks.

Without being 100 percent sure, as he says.

"However, if they were to be involved with the Israeli defense, I would not have anything against that. Israel was attacked and has the full right to defend itself as it does," says Davis.

I cannot find any contact info for the R-Stealth company. Regardless, the employees are drafted for military service, according to Conor Davis.

A long way from Sulitjelma to the war in the Middle East

Dictionaries describe the word "stealth" as moving cautiously and surreptitiously. In military jargon, the term is used about a technology "intended to make vehicles or missiles nearly invisible to enemy radar or other electronic detection." 

In the American movie "Stealth" from 2005, the US Navy has developed a high-tech bomb equipped with artificial intelligence. The film showcases the catastrophic consequences trusting artificial intelligence could have. 

Do not know what they are doing

BlueBite rents the Sulitjelma premises from the company Sulitjelma Industrial Park, which in turn rents from Arctic Sapphire. The latter is a Norwegian-Austrian company working on starting up new activity in Sulitjelma by producing sapphires.

"It is practically impossible to know what BlueBite is doing," says Ståle Indregård.

He is Arctic Sapphire's CEO and a Sulitjelma Industrial Park board member.

"In other industries, there is an end product. But there is no ban on what they are doing. But it also has no ripple effects in the local community," says Indregård.

Kunst Sulitjelma
Nature is about to take back the old industrial area in Sulitjelma. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Over the phone, Conor Davis confirmed that they do not have any employees in Sulitjelma or elsewhere in Norway. But he assures that they shop locally and plan to expand with more employees.

"I suppose they have bought a few services from local installers and a bottle of soda from the store every once in a while," says Indregård.

"But they are hardly present and never participate in any voluntary work or other activity in Sulitjelma. We are a small community that depends on people getting involved."

"Surely you decide who you rent to?"

"We were not as skeptical starting out. That has come later. It is two-sided. It is not illegal, but it creates major challenges. The communication is poor because they are absent in the local community."

Ståle Indrehard himself has grown up in Sulitjelma and knows the community well.

BlueBite has a ten-year lease on the premises.

Can analyze large amounts of data to identify potential targets.

The robot's answers

What exactly is a data center in Sulitjelma contributing to in the development of artificial intelligence? The basis is abundant access to cheap energy. But beyond that?

I ask Conor Davis.

"We buy hardware, okay? And then, we offer the computing power to companies, which, in turn, offer their software to customers. These customers send data to our machines, which process the data before the result is returned."

Undoubtedly, computer centers are essential components in the development of artificial intelligence. I forwarded the question to someone who could give me the most precise answer - an AI chatbot.

"There are many reasons for data centers being important to artificial intelligence," Google's own chatbot sets out.

One of them is precisely what Conor Davis points to:

"Data centers provide the vast computing resources needed to handle the complex calculations involved in AI tasks."

As I am already talking to Google's chatbot, I also ask if AI is important to the Israeli defense.

The answer is that AI plays an increasingly significant role in the Israeli defense industry. The Israeli military uses artificial intelligence for several purposes, answers the robot before it presents a long list of areas of use.

At the top of the list is the identification of bomb targets:

"AI systems can analyze large amounts of data to identify potential targets, such as enemy combatants and equipment. This can help the military to make more accurate and efficient decisions about when and where to strike."

AI is characterized by its ability to provide neutral answers.

Arne O. Holm og bobilen, High North Tour 2022.
Arne O. Holm and the mobile home, High North Tour 2022. (Photo: Hogne Bø Pettersen/the High North Center)

The experts disagree

There is wide agreement among experts, also through open Israeli sources, that AI identifies possible bomb targets quicker than an officer can. 

Much quicker.

Whether the use of AI limits the number of civilian victims, however, is widely disputed.

Since employees of R-Steath have been drafted to the Israeli defense, the AI centuries are at a low level in the old Sulitjelma mine.

"But during the next two to three months, we expect to increase activity significantly together with R-Stealth," says Conor Davis of BlueBite.

"These are smart people. Very, very smart people with a very interesting product."

"What product are we talking about?" I ask.

"It is a platform for many different companies, like medical companies. All companies that need training in the use of AI. They are far more cost-effective than its competitors," says Davis, which again emphasizes that he does not believe that the Israeli cooperation partner has anything to do with the military.

"What are you doing in Norway now?" I ask. 

"We are doing some work. Regular business work. And we might be meeting future investors that are interested in helping us."

"Norwegian investors?"

"No, no. We have not talked to any Norwegian investors," says Conor Davis.

A weakness in the political system.
Ståle Indregård, Sulitjelma Industrial Park.

Ståle Indregård, on behalf of the proprietors Sulitjelma Industrial Park and Arctic Sapphire, maintains that BlueBite does not add much to the community.

"It is a shame that we are not getting more activity from our power resources. There is a weakness in the political system that the power can be used this way," he says.

"That it can be used for something that does not provide ripple effects in the local community."

Today, only a few hundred people live in Sulitjelma. 

There is a long way from Sulitjelma to Israel and the war in the Middle East.

But not as long as I thought.

More from Arne O. Holm: