Category Archives: israel

Case for armed robot laws is mounting

Israel’s unmanned armed Guardium vehicle still has a human in the loop, for now.

Human Rights Watch has released a new report that is pretty much self-explanatory: Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots. In it, the advocacy group argues for a ban on fully autonomous, armed machines, in fear that their development will ultimately result in a Terminator-like situation where robots end up killing innocent humans.

The group believes such machines are only a few decades away, according to a statement:

Fully autonomous weapons do not yet exist, and major powers, including the United States, have not made a decision to deploy them. But high-tech militaries are developing or have already deployed precursors that illustrate the push toward greater autonomy for machines on the battlefield. The United States is a leader in this technological development. Several other countries – including China, Germany, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom – have also been involved. Many experts predict that full autonomy for weapons could be achieved in 20 to 30 years, and some think even sooner.

As per that last part, the group’s estimate is probably way off with full autonomy likely to come much sooner. Armed flying drones have been taking to the skies in Afghanistan and Iraq for the better part of a decade, while Israel is currently using armed ground robots such as the Guardium, likely in its current conflict in Gaza. In each case, there’s a human operator in the loop, but that’s likely to change soon. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in israel, robots, u.s., uav, war


Intel Israel and the transhuman future

Will Intel chips be inside humans when we merge with machines?

Israel isn’t just about small startup companies, it’s also home to some of the most important research and development labs for the biggest of multinationals. All of the titans – Microsoft, Google, IBM and soon, Apple – have such operations in the country, with Intel being the biggest. The chip maker is the country’s largest technology employer, with 8,500 employees.

Nearly half of those are based in Haifa, an hour north of Tel Aviv, where work is being done on the system-on-a-chip product that Intel will release in 2015. The Israeli operations, established in 1974, have supplied some of Intel’s most important products, including the Pentium, Centrino and Core Duo lines of chips. Work is now underway on Cedarview and Cloverview, the technologies found in many new netbooks and Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 tablets.

Oded Agam, head of vertical solutions strategic planning, explained that it’s the Israeli lab’s job to anticipate what technologies are going to be needed in the future. The Sandy Bridge chip architecture, for example, was created in 2005 – before YouTube – in anticipation of the explosion of online video. Clearly, they bet correctly.

So what’s coming up? Well, perceptual computing for one. We may know it now as motion gaming – think the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect (also invented by an Israeli company, PrimeSense) – but it will soon play a much bigger role in the world at large, according to Intel. Natural user interfaces are going to be huge and will start augmenting human capabilities in ways we have yet to imagine, Agam says. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 26, 2012 in intel, israel, ray kurzweil


Better Place electric cars need better business plan

Better Place electric cars cost about $30,000, but that doesn’t include the battery.

Better Place has to be Israel’s boldest and most ambitious technology startup – it’s just too bad it’s not working out.

Started by serial entrepreneur Shai Agassi, the electric-car company seeks to improve the world by weaning it off of oil. So far, though, such vehicles have come with a long list of problems: they’re too expensive, they don’t have very good range, it’s hard to charge them when you’re away from home and the charge-up takes too long. Better Place, however, thinks it has innovative ways around each of those issues.

On the cost front, the company has been able to lower the price of its cars – built by Renault-Nissan – to about $30,000. That’s still a little pricey for the average buyer, but it’s way cheaper than most electric cars because the purchase doesn’t include the vehicle’s most expensive part: the battery. The company actually owns it and, like a cellphone provider that discounts a phone in exchange for a long-term contract, the buyer signs up to a monthly service plan to offset other costs.

The plan includes the installation of a charging station at the buyer’s home, as well as much electricity as needed, based on a tiered service that depends on how much you want to drive. With Israel having some of the highest gas prices in the world, owing to the enmity of most of its neighbours, Better Place says customers can cut their montly gas bill by about 30 per cent through going electric. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 25, 2012 in cars, israel


Interlude makes choose-your-own adventure videos

Yoni Bloch’s video has five choice points with 256 different combinations.

With the ongoing explosive growth of online video, it’s no surprise that a good number of Israel’s startup are focusing on the area. One of the more impressive is Interlude, based in Tel Aviv.

The company was started by Israeli musician Yoni Bloch, who wanted to make online video truly interactive. Bloch and his bandmates are self-professed nerds with a keen interest in technology. As his bass player and company co-founder Tal Zubalsky puts it, “We’re not a sex and drugs band, we’re more of a computer and internet band.”

The idea behind Interlude is extraordinarily simple, but really well done. It’s a set of tools that allow content creators to make truly interactive videos. Creators can insert “choice points” into a video that the viewer then clicks on. Depending on the choice, the video branches off into a different direction and/or ending.

This sort of interactivity has been around since at least the advent of CD-ROMs, but the difference now is how seamless the videos are. There’s never a break in the action or audio, which is impressive. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 24, 2012 in israel, media


Parko’s crowd-sourcing parking app holds promise

Between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I visited and spoke with a dozen Israeli tech startups last week. One of the highlights was certainly Parko, a parking-assistant app launching in Tel Aviv in the next few weeks and, with any luck, in a number of big U.S. cities by the end of the year. I’m crossing my fingers that Parko makes it here to Toronto because, as TomTom’s recent congestion index indicated, we need all kinds of help when it comes to traffic and parking.

Parko is essentially a crowd-sourcing app that connects users looking for parking spots. When you first launch the app, you register the make, model and colour of your car. From there, you can tell the app that you’re either looking for a parking spot or just about to leave one. Depending on which end you’re on, you’ll get a notification that a nearby user is either leaving or looking, at which point you can choose to make the transaction or not.

Transaction is actually an appropriate word because the app doesn’t just rely on the kindness of strangers to work. Users are incentivized to volunteer their parking status with rewards of virtual coins. If you want to take advantage of Parko and actually secure one of those about-to-be-vacated spots, you have to – you guessed it – spend some of those coins. (They can also be purchased for real money, naturally). Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 23, 2012 in cars, israel


For Israel’s tech startups, size doesn’t matter

Jonathan Medved is one of Israel’s best-known venture capitalists.

I wrote last week about how Israel is a fascinating country on a technological level because of the sheer number of companies, innovations and entrepreneurs it is producing. This week, fresh from a tour of Israel’s tech sector, I’m going to run through some of the highlights – as well as a lowlight or two – that I experienced.

We’re already familiar with some of the country’s impressive technology-related stats, such as how it is third in Nasdaq-listed companies (behind the United States and China and ahead of Canada), but here’s another one: last year, 550 Israeli companies got venture capital funding, compared to 2,500 U.S. startups. That’s about 20 per cent of the relative investment, despite Israel having only 2 per cent of the U.S. population. Talk about punching above your weight class.

That over-performance is being fuelled by the likes of Jonathan Medved, one of Israel’s many, many venture capitalists. Medved is one of the more successful VCs – over the past 20 years, he has helped bring 11 companies to valuations of more than $100 million, with some of his more notable investments including (acquired by eBay) and (acquired by Summit). A few years ago, The New York Times named him one of the 60 most influential Americans who have made an impact on Israel.

Speaking with Medved was definitely a highlight, as he did a good job explaining why Israel has been so successful in cultivating a world-class technology sector. As an added bonus, he also shed some light on the similarities – and striking differences – between Israel and Canada when it comes to tech. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation: Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in israel, venture capital


Israel, war technology and the future of a world

If the Middle East were peaceful, would we have Kinect?

A few months ago, the Centre for Israeli and Jewish Affairs here in Toronto contacted me to ask if I would be interested in being part of a journalist delegation to Israel, to tour the country’s technology sector. I’ve had my eye on Israel for several years now, since working on Sex, Bombs and Burgers and learning that much of the country’s economic success over the past few decades has been the result of a meshing between technology and the military. So of course, I agreed.

A group of us are spending this week visiting tech schools, organizations, entrepreneurs and companies around Israel, from the research and development labs of large multinationals such as Intel and Motorola to smaller startups such as Mobli and Conduit. I’ll be sure to write up some of my experiences, this week if I have the time, or next week at the latest.

The numbers on Israel’s technology sector are impressive. Israel has more venture capital investments per capita than any nation on earth, including the United States, and boasts the most non-U.S. companies listed on the Nasdaq after China. It’s ranked fourth in the world in scientific activity, in terms of scientific publications per million citizens, and has some of the highest levels of R&D investment globally. Indeed, Intel and Microsoft opened their first non-U.S. R&D centres in the country.

On the military side, Israel is third in the world in terms of per capita spending, behind only the United Arab Emirates and the U.S. Looking to future tech, it is the second biggest spender on military robots, such as unmanned aerial and ground robots, after the United States. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on October 15, 2012 in israel, war


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