Investing in the future of Israel’s real and artificial intelligence

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

The landscape of Israeli R&D and higher education has yielded profound impacts on both industry and society, positioning the nation as a global flagship of innovation and technological advancement. This journey underscores the imperative to fortify Israeli academic institutions as the true centers of progress and innovation, especially as we are at risk of losing our edge.

Israeli universities have undeniably emerged as epicenters of innovation, giving birth to a myriad of transformative technologies that have reshaped industries and societies worldwide. From the revolutionary multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone to the pioneering autonomous driving technology developed by Mobileye, Israeli academia has consistently pushed the boundaries of possibility. However, to sustain this momentum and ensure continued leadership in the face of evolving challenges, it is imperative to redouble our commitment to nurturing and fortifying our R&D ecosystem, with an emphasis on investment in higher education as the engine behind the pipeline of great Israeli innovation and talent.

At the forefront of this technological revolution lies the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence, where Israel has established itself as one of the leading countries. According to international comparisons, Israel ranks among the top 10 ecosystems for AI. However, there exists a pressing shortage of experienced experts with advanced degrees in core AI areas critical to Israel’s continued leadership in the field. If we aspire to maintain and even improve our rankings and continue to churn out groundbreaking inventions, a strategic intervention is required to address this human capital need. Without such a plan, Israel risks falling behind in the global AI “arms race”, with other countries strategically investing in this field in our region and throughout the world.

To ensure a thriving pool of AI experts, Israel must act decisively and invest strategically in education and research and development. Therefore, recent proposed budget cuts in the Council for Higher Education are cause for concern, as they may impede efforts to cultivate the next generation of AI talent. We should not even consider cutting the academia budget but rather double it, and see this as a strategic investment in the future of our country.

Joint efforts between industry, academia, and policymakers are essential to bridge the gap in the AI sector, especially in the face of fierce global competition for recruiting AI experts. By bolstering investment in R&D across frontier fields like AI, quantum computing, and space exploration, Israel can lay the groundwork for continued innovation and excellence, securing its position as a global hub of technological prowess.

The contributions of esteemed institutions like the Weizmann Institute of Science, renowned for its groundbreaking research in various fields including AI, underscore Israel’s unparalleled capacity for scientific achievement and societal impact. Furthermore, initiatives such as the Quantum Science and Technology consortium led by the Technion exemplify Israel’s commitment to pioneering new frontiers of scientific inquiry and technological innovation.

We must also recognize the indispensable role of the liberal arts in nurturing critical thinking skills and fostering a deeper understanding of the human condition, particularly in times of turmoil and uncertainty. Investment in disciplines such as philosophy, history, and political science serves not only to cultivate well-rounded individuals but also to imbue our society with the resilience and adaptability needed to navigate an ever-changing world and develop ideas for the future of Israel that we can all gather behind and help to heal the wounds of an increasingly polarized society.

Sustaining Israel’s leadership in AI and other frontier fields requires not only investment in technical expertise but also in cultivating an inclusive and inviting environment that attracts talent from diverse backgrounds. We have an opportunity to build and strengthen great institutions, and to recruit both Israeli talent and talent from the Jewish Diaspora, which should be encouraged to return to Israel rather than face increasing antisemitism in some of the best institutions in the US and Europe. By fostering a diverse and vibrant community of scholars, Israel can harness the collective intellect and creativity of individuals worldwide, enriching the fabric of its research landscape and fostering a culture of collaboration and innovation.

With Israel facing unprecedented uncertainty, the time is ripe to recognize and amplify our investment in Israeli R&D and higher education as the linchpin of the country’s future prosperity and resilience. By fortifying our academic institutions and nurturing a culture of innovation and collaboration, we pave the way for a future where groundbreaking discoveries and transformative technologies flourish, reaffirming Israel’s status as a center of progress and ingenuity on the global stage.

About the Author
Mati Gill is CEO of AION Labs, a venture studio with a first-of-its-kind company creation model for new start-ups utilizing AI for drug discovery and development. Prior to founding AION Labs, Mati was a senior executive at Teva Pharmaceuticals and served as Chief of Staff for Israel’s Minister of Public Security. He is an IDF veteran (Maj. res.)`and currently serves on the boards of the Israel Advanced Technology Industries Association (IATI) and the Israel America Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).
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