Israel’s Mysterious Charm of AI and Innovation

Artificial intelligence (hereinafter referred to as AI) has become an indispensable part of our lives unconsciously. As AlphaGo achieved fame for the victory in one game against human beings, AI began to show itself on the world stage. Unknowingly, “Artificial intelligence,” the word stands for the high technology. Perhaps in the future, AI will replace human beings not just in some aspects but it will be inseparable from our lives.

When it comes to AI and neural networks, it is easy for people to think of Israel which is known as the country of innovation. In the past, Israel has stood multiple trials and tests, but nowadays it is known to the world because it is equipped with technical capabilities which are as good as the Silicon Valley, even some giant companies from all over the world are coveting Israeli startups. The economic miracles created by Israel are well known to the world. As a small country with a population of just over 8 million, Israel has created a miracle with a per capita GDP of more than $30,000, and 90% of it comes from their technology sector. Such a country that is constantly plagued by war and ethnic conflicts, but it has become the country with the largest number of listed companies on the NASDAQ except the United States.

In Tel Aviv, we find that innovation is rooted in the city. Most of the city’s star-studded startups have set up their offices in some old residences and communities, and even if they succeed in getting financing, they still maintain a streamlined team, which may keep investors’ financing last longer. Their entrepreneurial team is full of some grey-haired, experienced professors and doctors who are willing to abandon the comfortable environment of large enterprises and scientific research institutions. They are willing to work hard for several years, overcome technical difficulties, and wait for successful financing to retire afterwards. They act like the style of the Americans in the 1960s.

In the field of artificial intelligence, we visited several representative companies in the field of artificial intelligence at different stages of the startups. These companies, teams, ideas and technologies have surprised us with the hard work of Israelis in technological breakthroughs.
The iOnroad is a good example in case, which is recently acquired by Harman International in Israel. Nowadays, car navigation apps can be seen everywhere like AMAP and Baidu map etc. But unlike other common navigation softwares, iOnRoad has a more accurate positioning system with more user-friendly functions. We saw the new virtual reality (VR) technology developed by iOnRoad, which can display real-time street maps marked with road names, house numbers and store names when driving. The technology was recently acquired by Samsung’s Israeli Company Harman and has been applied to the new A-series cars that were launched in Mercedes-Benz in 2018. iOnRoad’s augmented reality driving app can also be used in the automobile safe driving sector to warn drivers of road hazards. This software does not require exclusive hardware support, and can be used with smart phone hardware, cameras and accelerometers to run intelligent road safety systems on software platforms such as Android, IOS, Windows and Linux.

Innovid and Ironsource, although at different stages of financing, show us the greatness of Israeli companies. Both companies adopt unique algorithms to help customers in accurately delivering ads for rapid liquidation. Innovid’s new advertising technology allows users to place ads directly in the scenario based on the content being played on the online video that users watch. IronSource focuses on how to use massive data and accurate algorithms to help software developers liquidate, provide accurate advertising, and accelerate the liquidation in the market. Therefore, the two companies have amazing profitability, which is a good example of the innovative features of Israel’s AI sector: make good use of Internet, capture massive data, make in-depth analysis, and then achieve accurate matching to increase profitability.

In the medical sector, we see that Medicizor collects detailed data from each user through a unique algorithm to provide accurate, timely, reliable, relevant and personalized medical and disease information for patients with chronic diseases and serious diseases. Many patients with chronic diseases today often feel at a loss in distinguishing whether the information is true or not on the Internet. In addition, because each individual’s characteristics are different, similar conditions are likely to have different incentives. Medivizor is the first website dedicated to providing truly personalized information and services to patients with chronic and severe illnesses, creating unique health records for each and delivering the latest, authoritative and understandable medical information based on each person’s profile. This can serve as a great breakthrough in the field of medical big data.

Companies such as iOnRoad, Innovid, Ironsource, and Medivisor also embody the characteristics of Israeli companies, who are all looking at how to use sophisticated algorithms to create value for mature markets, without being tied to Israel’s own population of only 8 million. Markets (Israel’s neighbors are mostly hostile and there are few other markets within the region), which really shocked us. The use of technology by Israelis is far more than we could ever imagine. Anyone can create a technology company of their own. As long as there is an idea for potential business, they can have investment in incubators, profitability and financing, it seems to be a matter of course. Originally, Jews from all over the world gather together with diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles, it would be enough to have new sparks.

In addition to start-ups, we also visited eHealth Venture—a well-known Israeli medical incubator. As one of Israel’s most famous incubators, it focuses on medical technology and its partners include Israel’s largest medical service company, USA’s top clinics, and the world’s most famous biotechnology companies. The incubator industry supported by the Israeli government is universally recognized as the most advanced industry in the world. There are nearly 30 incubators jointly run by government and private companies in Israel. Each incubator focuses on different industries, incubating and investing 5-10 start-ups after evaluation and screening annually. For each company, the Israeli government contributes 85% and private capital contributes 15%, but the benefits are divided into half and half. This has greatly contributed to the global capital investment in early Israeli start-ups. Levi Shapiro, CEO of mHealth, said that in terms of the medical talents, Israel also benefits from more than half of the citizens who apply for university diplomas. This ratio is the highest among all life sciences R&D countries, and medical big data is Israel’s most popular research and development direction.

In Israel, we also feel the thriving relationship between Israel and China. Almost every startup we visit, regardless of how the speakers are experienced or grey-haired, will ask our high school students in an extremely humble tone about how they should enter the Chinese market appropriately and do business there. When visiting the Israel-Asia Centre, we learned that Chinese students coming to Israel are growing annually. A great number of Chinese students are working hard to promote exchanges between Israel and China in the fields of science, technology, culture and commerce.

We are quite surprised by the innovative and entrepreneurial charm of Israel, and we are also moved by the creativity and wisdom of every Israeli resident living here.

As a member of the Oriental civilization, we are willing to learn from the experiences of Israel and share with the Chinese youth. Whether it is cutting-edge technology or venture capital, whether it is cultural integration or social governance, Israel has established its core competitiveness with a fascinating and sustainable called “small and beautiful” model. In the future, we are willing to share our experiences, observations and feelings in Israel with more people who have not yet stepped into this land. We hope that young people from China and Israel can learn from each other, learn from each other’s strengths, build mutual friendship and trust, and make full use of the policies and environmental advantages of their respective countries in the interaction between technology and entrepreneurship to create a more competitive future.

People often say that we must learn to discover the beauty of strangers in their lives. But it is different here. The people here are very friendly. There is no company or enterprise that would put on airs. When you step into the door of any company, you will feel their enthusiasm and the company’s affinity instantly. For them, the company is like another home. They can walk dogs, go skateboarding in the company, and even bring their children to the company. The meeting here is just like the tea party, and the warmth from the Israelites can be felt all the time.

Walking out of Tel Aviv’s Google campus, it suddenly drizzles. Breathing the fresh air of the Mediterranean shore, we seem to be still immersed in the brightly-lit space, listening to the AI technocrats to share with us about the breakthroughs and achievements in the field of image and text recognition. Here, our vision seems to be able to cross the endless white buildings of Tel Aviv and extend to the distant China…

This post is co-authored by Xincheng Zhu and Ziyi Huang, who are MuseEducation Research Fellows. Both of them are young scholars based in Shanghai. Xincheng and Ziyi visited Israel earlier this year on technology innovation and business development.

About the Author
Xincheng is a MuseEducation Research Fellows based in Shanghai.