Intel: Israel may not remain ‘Start-up Nation’

Company comprising 20% of Israel's high-tech exports should be “flashing red light,” says Intel Israel President

INTEL employee demonstrates visual-recognition software 370 (photo credit: NIV ELIS)
INTEL employee demonstrates visual-recognition software 370
(photo credit: NIV ELIS)
Intel Israel president Mooly Eden expressed concern Sunday that Israel was becoming complacent with its status as the “Start-up Nation,” a phrase popularized by a book of the same name exalting the country’s entrepreneurial innovations.
“This isn’t forever,” he said at the company’s annual conference in Tel Aviv, against a backdrop of convertible touch-screen laptops, tablets, smartphones and other highpowered gadgets. “Are we investing enough in Israel on a national level, so that in the future we will a have ‘Israel: The Start-up Nation, Part Two,’ or will this be a history book?” Eden raised the question after announcing a banner year for Intel Israel. The company more than doubled its exports, from $2.2 billion in 2011 to $4.6b. in 2012. That figure represents 10 percent of Israel’s total exports (excluding diamonds) and 20% of the country’s $21.5b. in hi-tech exports.
“This should be a flashing red light,” said Eden, looking like a European Steve Jobs with his backward Kangel beret matching his all-black attire. Although the company’s remarkable success in Israel gave him great pride, he said, there were plenty of other tech-savvy nations that will outpace Israel if it doesn’t make the right investments.
“We aren’t the only start-up nation in the world. There’s a start-up nation in India and a start-up nation in China and a start-up nation in Brazil,” he said, attributing the current Israeli hi-tech boom, in part, to the influx of relatively educated immigrants from the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
But far from endorsing specific policies, Eden simply paid lip service to the fields of taxation, export law and education.
On the latter point, Intel is at least putting its money where its mouth is. In 2012, it announced a NIS 20 million investment in education programs to increase the number of technology-ready highschool graduates, which based on matriculation scores stood at a paltry 6.5%.
Those skills, alongside fierce creativity, were what helped Intel Israel put together its latest technologies, not only in chips but also in innovative software. Among the more delightful innovations on display at the conference, the company developed visualrecognition software that allows a camera to detect precise hand movements, enabling users to naturally interact with the virtual world.
The technology, which makes the virtual-reality gloves in movies as old as the 1980s gaming classic The Wizard and as recent as Tom Cruise’s Minority Report seem equally dated, could have myriad applications. To find them, the company has offered a $1m.
prize to the developer who can come up with the best app for the new technology. Down the line, facial-recognition software bolstering speech-to-text technology could revolutionize how people interact with their computers.
“Speech will do to touch what touch has done to keyboards,” Eden said, referring to the smartphone and tablet touch-screen technology that sidelined keyboard usage on portable devices.
“The phone will get smarter and smarter, not phonier and phonier,” he joked. If Israel is to stay competitive, it will have to follow suit.