My Word: Between Amazon’s Halo, Abu Dhabi and the Tour de France

In any case, talk of a joint mission between Israel and the UAE puts me in an optimistic mood.

MASKED TEAM Israel Start-Up Nation riders before the start of Stage 4 of the Tour de France on September 1. (photo credit: REUTERS)
MASKED TEAM Israel Start-Up Nation riders before the start of Stage 4 of the Tour de France on September 1.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What kind of mood are you in? Until this week, I thought that was a relatively easy question – something you know instinctively. Apparently not. Amazon has just released its Halo wristband and subscription-based app, which, along with other information, is meant to be able to detect your mood. Apart from analyzing the usual sensors such as heart rate, it also determines your emotion according to your voice: the tone, the words you use and who knows what else? Maybe you could ask Alexa.
In my youth, mood rings were a thing. A gimmick. But Amazon’s Halo has literally turned those into child’s play – and a thing of the distant past.
I confess that I’m so technophobic that having a bracelet tell me how I feel seems both redundant and sinister. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve. If you can’t tell what mood you’re in without the help of an electronic wristband, you have bigger issues to self-analyze.
I first heard about Amazon’s latest gift to humanity on the excellent evening news broadcast “Ha’olam Hayom” (The World Today) on KAN 11. Presenter Moav Vardi interviewed Tel Aviv University’s Dr. Eran Toch about the applications and implications of the smart device.
Toch, a member of the industrial engineering faculty, pointed out that the wristband was meant to provide an additional tool to changing – i.e. improving – lifestyles. The information Halo collects can let users know if they are active enough, sleeping enough or need to be calmer and so on.
Personally, I don’t need a bracelet beaming information into cyberspace to tell me that. It’s more innate intelligence than artificial intelligence. And if my wristband tells me I’m in a bad mood, I might just tell the darn thing some words that confirm it.
In the “what will they think of next?” category, just when I thought that such devices couldn’t get creepier, the TV report noted that the Halo app can use smartphone cameras to do a 3D scan and determine body fat density. Just what I need: An accessory that tells me I’m irritable, not sleeping enough and fat!
Toch noted that, particularly in America, people are living in an Amazon world and are used to asking Alexa questions, ordering goods, via the company and so on.
Amazon is a sign of life in the modern urban jungle. Looking for more information for this product – and ads for it will no doubt now appear on my Facebook feed – I wondered where all this would take us. One article noted how an instruction to your smart watch can adjust the mood lighting in your room and I wondered if one day this would be automatic. Will people end up arguing with some unseen external force over whether their room should be lighter or darker, and indeed whether their mood is lighter or darker?
Both Toch and Vardi noted the potential privacy problems of the electronic wristband, or at least its owner company’s problematic track record on protecting personal information. But Amazon is not alone. Google’s Fitbit recently unveiled a smart watch that can measure the impact of stress on the body.
“Overall, the launch is another signal that tech giants are continuing to push even more deeply into the world of health, even at a time when there may be more skepticism about the level at which these companies pervade our lives,” read a Business Insider report on Halo published August 27.
“It’s also another sign that health tech is evolving beyond physical fitness.”
Trying to be charitable – I guess I’m in that kind of mood – I wondered if there were some positive aspects to the mind-reading device. If it could help prevent suicide, it would be invaluable.
WHEN I turned the television on, I didn’t have an emotionally sensitive wristband in mind. I was more interested in monitoring two major events concerning Israel and the world at large. The first was fairly obvious in a week like this one. The whirlwind visit of the Israeli and US delegations to the United Arab Emirates, on a direct El Al flight over Saudi Arabia, was the biggest story. And I don’t need external help to let me know that it was a feel-good story at that.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov reported from Abu Dhabi, it was a time to set cynicism aside. The warmth with which the delegation was greeted was genuine. The challenge will be maintaining it and moving ahead with a relationship that can benefit the whole region and beyond.
The key will be protecting our own interests while working together.
The second event that has captured my attention was the ongoing Tour de France. Having confessed that I’m a technophobe, I might as well make two more confessions: I can’t ride a bike but I’m addicted to the Tour de France. Some of my best childhood memories are of summer vacations across the English Channel following the progress of the bicycle competition surrounded by the beautiful French countryside.
This year, the competition took on added significance as an Israeli. For the first-time ever, an Israeli team, wearing blue-and-white jerseys, is taking part. Cue for a mood-detecting bracelet to receive pride-emitting transmissions.
Israel Start-Up Nation, as the country’s professional cycling team is called, is the result of entrepreneurial spirit, determination and dreams of team co-owner Sylvan Adams. The Canadian-Israeli billionaire describes himself as a “self-appointed ambassador for the State of Israel.” A well-known cycling enthusiast, he is credited with helping bring the 2018 Giro d’Italia to Israel. Above all, Adams concentrates on improving Israel’s image and building bridges through sporting and cultural events. The cyclist “wheeler-dealer,” not so incidentally, attended the US-sponsored Prosperity to Peace Conference in Bahrain last year and also participated in a major cycling event there in March.
A good sport, Adams “pedals” Israel with events like this – battling BDS supporters who still call for the country’s boycott. The Israeli team has come under criticism for not being all that blue-and-white – only one competitor, Guy Niv, is Israeli and the other seven come from different countries, including big names Dan Martin from Ireland, Krists Neilands (Latvia) and Nils Politt from Germany. They face a grueling route of nearly 3,500 km. (some 2,165 miles), which includes eight mountain stages.
Without belittling Niv’s enthusiasm and dedication, there are no top-notch Israeli cyclists yet, but Adams has already made an achievement by persuading foreign riders that riding with the Israeli flag on their jerseys is nothing to be ashamed of. He is also co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy nurturing local talent.
More in tune with its “Team Israel Start-Up Nation” moniker, the team is using COVID-resistant hi-tech SonoMasks, developed by the Israeli company Sonovia. Sophisticated masks to battle the novel coronavirus are more useful than the Halo mood-reading wristband the way I see it.
Normalization and anti-stigmatization are in the air. After this week’s successful visit by the Israeli delegation to the UAE, there’s a feeling that Israel is not going away but is going places. KAN even broadcast that Israeli and Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi discussed the possibility of a future joint space mission. The sky is no longer the limit.
This also ignited my imagination. I wonder if the Amazon wristband might serve some purpose checking on the condition of astronauts during a space mission. In outer space, rather than cyberspace, the Halo might shine a little brighter. In any case, talk of a joint mission between Israel and the UAE puts me in an optimistic mood. I can just feel it even without advanced hi-tech. All I need is to be left to my own devices.
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