Professor Amnon Shashua is CEO and CTO of Mobileye, a world leader in collision avoidance systems and autonomous driving technologies, and Senior Vice President of Intel Corporation, one of the world’s largest semiconductor chip makers. Professor Shashua holds the Sachs Chair in computer science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Can you tell me some of your story?
I did my PhD in artificial intelligence at MIT in the early 90s. One of the professors took responsibility over me. When I discovered a new mathematical formula his response was: “Apply for a patent.” For the first time it came to me that you can put science and business together on the same footing. I came back to Israel to be a professor at the university, and then I started my first company, called CogniTens, in the area of reconstructing 3D from multiple images for industrial applications. In 1999 with my partner Ziv Aviram we created Mobileye, and in 2010 we founded another company, OrCam. Since 1995 I am both a professor and an entrepreneur, and I have two lives. I am active in research and last year I published eleven papers.
“It is a revolution. With no parking and cars self-driving, cities will change.”
You sold Mobileye to Intel. How come?
Yes, we sold it in the Summer of 2017 for fifteen point three billion dollars, the biggest transaction in Israel ever. In 2014 we did the biggest Israeli IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. What is exciting about Mobileye is that we are thinking of the future of transportation. How can the car drive by itself? We work with many different companies.
What do you do?
We develop hardware, computer chips, and software for sensing the environment, and interpreting signals coming from cameras, and building an understanding of the roadway necessary for driving a vehicle autonomously.
At what stage of development are autonomous vehicles, self-driven cars?
2021 is the time we believe that this technology will mature and you will be able to buy cars which you don’t have to drive. In the meanwhile there are driving assist systems that help drivers to reduce accidents, preventing collisions with pedestrians or other vehicles. They are already installed in many cars, more than twenty million provided by Mobileye.
What is the idea of these self-driven cars?
If you look at Uber for instance and you remove the driver the cost will be reduced by 50 percent. The most attractive business of Mobileye is in cities. Another market is that if I buy a car I can drive the car to work and then it goes back home to do other things for other members of the family and then later the car can come back and pick me up at the office. We need fewer cars in the future, less parking lots, and the entire design of cities will change.
Is that bad news for automobile companies?
No. They’re making these cars and they generate more revenue.
“The most important thing is safety.”
How long will autonomy take?
Decades to replace all cars, but it is a revolution. With no parking and cars self-driving, cities will change.
Are you sure it will work?
It is a very big business. I believe regular cars will be produced for many decades, but self-driven cars are a very attractive solution.
Why is it safer?
Machines are not distracted and they are never drunk. It will take time to be completely safe.
What car companies are working on this?
Do you have competitors?
Of course. Bosch, Google and some car makers. As I said before, many players. It will work, but one has to do the right thing, put costs at the right level and give safety guarantees. You can win the race to be first, but being first does not matter. The most important thing is safety.
What else do you do?
My other company OrCam helps the blind and those who are visually in trouble and don’t see well, using artificial intelligence and technology to interpret the visual world and transmit it to the user. This is going very well, and we can help blind people to read, to recognize faces and so on so forth. We will go public in the next two years.
“Artificial intelligence will start to replace everything that is too repetitive.”
What do you teach at the Hebrew University?
Computer science, a very dynamic field. Israel is very strong in computer science. We are in the Top 50 in the world, and sometimes better.
Now you are a billionaire, did your life change since you sold Mobileye to Intel for so much money?
My life did not change. I still go to work and to teach every day.
Is there any jealousy?
The university benefitted a lot from the income from Mobileye’s sale. People like to measure the quality of real life.
Will artificial intelligence reduce our brains?
More and more repetitive tasks can be replaced by machine. Calculators for instance can do things that humans cannot do. Computers save the work of collecting data. Artificial intelligence will start to replace everything that is too repetitive. Artificial intelligence in my view is not dangerous.
Do you think that one day there will be peace in Israel?
Talking about peace is like talking about when we are going to colonize Mars. It is better to look at what is happening in the region. There is an entire breakdown of Arab civilization, and until this process is stabilized it is meaningless to talk about peace. We can only talk about stability.
What is the role of Israel in that?
The role of Israel is to maintain stability, with a strong army, a strong economy, and a strong technology. Because if you are weak you die. In this part of the world there is no tolerance for weakness.
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