Sunday, May 23, 2010

University of Haifa, IBM, and Guest Speakers

We attended many lectures today and heard a lot about technology in Israel. Our first stop was to the University of Haifa. Like the Hebrew University, we learned that they host many international students. They welcome students from all over the world. The University is located on top of Mount Carmel and one of the University buildings is the Eshkol Tower, which is 30 stories high. From the top we could see much of Israel and even the border to Lebanon.
We attended many lectures today and heard a lot about technology in Israel. Our first stop was to the University of Haifa. Like the Hebrew University, we learned that they host many international students. They welcome students from all over the world. The University is located on top of Mount Carmel and one of the University buildings is the Eshkol Tower, which is 30 stories high. From the top we could see much of Israel and even the border to Lebanon.

The 30th floor had a conference room where we met with two individuals. The first was Eran Ariel. He is an entrepreneur and he talked to us about the life cycle of technology and the source of Israeli innovation. He said that the military serves as a platform for innovation. Everything is more intense in Israel because there is pressure amongst citizens to do something now while there is some stability. He also talked about how Israelis accept that failure will happen when trying to start a company, but it is expected that you learn from your mistakes. He used the quote, "In Germany, if you fail you are shamed. In England, it's an embarrassment. In Israel, it's a medal of honor." - Yossi Vardi (Tech Entrepreneur and Investor). He also talked about the difference between good enough and excellent is bankruptcy. Ariel summed up Israel's technology in three words: clever, acute, inconsistent.

Next we talked to one of the professors. He explained to us how they test babies hearing. He also showed us his research facility concerning hearing tests and how sound affects the brain. After a tour of the facility, we were able to have lunch. Many of us enjoyed our first American meal of the trip, McDonalds. However, everything was in Hebrew and the value meals weren't labeled so ordering was difficult.
After lunch we went to the IBM research facility on the University of Haifa's campus. It is the largest research facility outside of the United States. The Israel lab is 95% computer science and employs 450 people. IBM as a company, however, employs 4,000 people in Israel at other facilities. IBM's focus is on leadership and to always be looking into the future to be on the leading edge of technology.

During our visit to IBM we had many researchers come speak to us. The first was Pnina Vortman who was in charge of Smarter Planet Solutions. She talked about how Information Technology accounts for 2% of global CO2 emissions and how IBM is working to reduce that. She explained the different initiatives they are taking to become more environmentally friendly including water, cities, intelligence, buildings, oil, and traffic. For example, IBM, as well as many other companies in Israel, have a chip in the gas tank of their company vehicles. When they fill up at a gas station, the nozzle reads the chip and records gasoline usage and efficiency which is put into a database. Another example are water meters. There are meters that can measure the water usage for a house or neighborhood and record the average water usage for the unit. When there are spikes in usage this usually indicates a leak which can be fixed right away. IBM is also working on designing smart buildings. In all the rooms at Haifa's IBM, the lights and air conditioner detect movement, so if no one is in the room everything will turn off in order to conserve energy. She summarized what it means to become smarter in four steps: measuring, monitoring, modeling, and managing. By doing this, everything can be integrated in order to optimize processes. In the future, technology will decentralize energy. We asked her how the concerns on privacy affect this technology. She basically said we were naive to think that we still have privacy. If you have a cell phone, credit card, or facebook, your privacy is already gone. As it concerns the government, they already have access to all your information. However, steps are being taken to ensure that criminals don't get ahold of this information.

Our next speaker talked about telecommunication and how cell phone companies figure out who is looking to change carriers in order to catch them before they leave. By looking at your call history, researchers are able to figure out groups of friends who talk regularly. There is almost always a leader in the group. In most countries, this leader receives the most calls. However, in the US, the leader almost always is the one making the calls. It has been discovered that a group of friends tends to follow the leader's choice in phone companies. Cell phone companies then offer deals to leaders they feel are thinking about changing carriers ("churning" is the technical term) or friends of the leader who are on a different plan.

The final speaker at IBM was particularly intelligent. In fact, most of what he talked about was way over our heads, except for the Electrical Engineering majors in the group. His name was Danny Elad and he explained how the invented some of the popular technologies we see today and what they are planning for the future. Some of these products include chips that are used in phones, computers, and x-ray machines at the airport, a million dollar camera that can see underneath your clothes, 3D imaging, and thermal sensors. The future could be that stoplights have radars that can tell if an oncoming car to a red light is going to fast in order to stop in time. It would then change the other direction to red in order to avoid a collision. Also, a radar could be used in cars the same way they are used in airplanes to separate traffic. A radar in you car can warn you to nearby cars.

After IBM we returned by to the hotel for dinner and two more guest speakers. The first was actually a professor from the University of Minnesota who happened to be in Israel teaching a class at one of the colleges. He talked to us about cleantech and how Israel is a part of cleaner technology. Out of 4,015 total companies in Israel, 10% of them invest in clean technology compared to the 0.8% worldwide. Surprisingly cleantech investment hasn't declined as the economy has. He also talked about how much Israel creates marketable technology compared to many other countries and why this is. He believes that Israel has a stronger drive to create something marketable and there is pressure to do so because of the instability of the area. However the GDP of Israel is less then the US, the gap is closing very quickly.

Our last speaker was the Dean of Management at the University of Haifa. He went into more detail as to why Israel is so advanced. He believes much of it has to do with where the people come from. There have been millions of immigrants to the country since their independence in 1948 where basically every person needs to absorb 2 incommers. With so many immigrants, there is a mixture of people and ideas which contribute to the technological success. There is also a cycle of war ever 5 - 10 years representing the instability of the area. This pushes for military innovation which serves as the roots for most other technology developed. Solar power is huge in Israel because it is such a dominate natural resource. The use solar powered water heaters on the roofs of their houses and have been for over 70 years. He also mentioned Israel's success in the science of irrigation and agricultural technology. He talked about many other technologies that were invented in Israel including the pentium chip, Wi-fi, cherry tomatoes, and stints (for hearts). The last thing he said was how other countries are looking to advance their own technology and research, such as Saudi Arabia. They just invested $10 billion in a research facility with faculty and students from all over the world. They are eager to join sophistication and have the money to do so.

That was a lot of information. I hope I didn't mix up any of the presentations. Needless to say our brains were on overload by the end of the night. I'll add picture later when the internet is working better.

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