Technological progress and the integration of artificial intelligence raises concerns that it will have an excessive influence on people's lives, from public opinion to the employment market. Fear about loss of jobs has now been joined by fear of manipulation or deception using technology. Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq:MLNX) founder and CEO Eyal Waldman is not so worried.
"As we make further progress, the world will be more open and fairer, and there will be less illegal wealth," Waldman told "Globes" at an event held by the Tel Aviv University Alumni Organization. "Progress and technology enable us to be more efficient. For example, instead of looking up terms in an encyclopedia, we can look for them on Google, even in mid-flight. We're also being programmed at the same time - they tell us where to go and how, for example using Moovit or Via transportation services, or showing us an ad for a product we looked for on Instagram or Facebook."
"Globes": This is not necessarily a positive thing.
Waldman: "Why not? For me, it's very positive. If they see that I'm looking for a leather jacket and they see that I'm passing by some shopping mall, they can tell me that there's a store that has my size. They also know how much I weigh and whether or not I've gotten fat. People who think about their privacy have something to hide, and here the question is what they want to hide. You can make more money using marketing manipulations. Information is power. Real estate was once the most expensive thing, then it was energy, and today, the most valuable resource is information. It makes it possible to control many spheres and make more money."
We are in an election campaign. Technology and information also facilitate manipulation of public opinion, for example on the social networks.
"Why is this a problem? There used to be billboards, and whoever controlled the billboards in central Tel Aviv had the best chance of winning. 80% of households use to read the newspaper, and you could do brainwashing in the press. Today, instead of radio and the press, you have Facebook and Google."
So we have exchanged one distortion for another.
"I don't see it as a distortion. I think that business is a good thing, and that Facebook and Google are amazing platforms that enable a lot of companies to do what they want to do. You have to be aware of the rules of the game; otherwise, you'll lose. If you're aware of the rules and you have more power and information, you'll win."
"Computers aren't worried about what people say about them"
Waldman also comments on concerns about technology falling into undesirable hands and the need for regulation that will safeguard people. "Technology will make it possible to do things that we haven't thought of yet. It will affect the legal system, autonomous cars, elections, and so forth, but regulation is needed that will make sure that it's in the right hands," Waldman says.
Waldman cites law as an example. "In the future, it will be possible to develop an algorithm that will tell you how to win cases being heard in court. The computer will analyze the judges' rulings and be able to say which arguments lawyers should make before the judges in order to persuade them. Instead of interns working late at night, a computer will do it in a minute or two. We just have to make sure that it doesn't fall into the hands of organized crime, so that it can't win trials against it."
It is not just the mafia and organized crime. Algorithms can include bias.
"If they are programmed fairly, the computers are very fair. They don't have prejudices like people. In general, computers are more objective and fairer; they aren't like people, who think about what people say about them and what will be thought about them at home. The assumption is that the data are completely objective; the question is what you do with them."
"Our leaders are stoking fear"
Mellanox has employees in centers around Israel: Yokne'am, Tel Aviv, Ra'anana, Kiryat Gat, Tel Hai, and Jerusalem. It also employs 150 Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. "A large proportion of the tech industry is concentrated in Tel Aviv. It's much easier to manage the company when most of it is located in a single building, as can be seen with Check Point, whose CEO, Gil Shwed, is a good friend of mine. We work everywhere in the world. It would be better if more companies, such as ironSource and Outbrain, would work in the outlying areas. This is something you have to learn how to do, but you just have to decide that you can work in a decentralized way."
Tell me about the development center in Rawabi and about joint work with the Palestinians.
"I met Palestinian businessperson Bashar al-Masri 10 years ago, and we starting collaborating. We now have 150 employees in Rawabi, Nablus, Hebron, and also in the Gaza Strip. I think that we're the only company that employs workers in the Gaza Strip. There are amazing people there. A few months ago, we brought 60-70 people from the West Bank on a tour of Jaffa. There were people aged 25-30 there who saw the sea for the first time. They were deathly afraid of Israelis, and we were afraid of them. Our leaders are stoking this fear, but we decided that we wanted to break this. We see the relations between the engineers working together - there is good friction. They talk about soccer, children, and tell jokes. If we generate good friction between the two peoples, better things will happen, and we'll reduce the level of fear. We're not politicians, so we won't make peace, but we can certainly influence public opinion, which will bring it closer. We brought four or five Israeli companies to Rawabi, and a large American company."
What is the role of a business company in the society in which it operates?
"I attended a banquet at a venture capital fund last week, and I spoke with the CEOs of startups. The subject of social responsibility was raised, and I see startups that are beginning to care about society before they make a profit. I think that every CEO should first of all make a profit. Once the company starts making a lot of money, you can think about what to do on behalf of society. If it does this first, there won't be a focus on growth, and if the company isn't healthy, it can't contribute to society."
"The coronavirus could be an opportunity for us"
Mellanox develops communications products as a basis for transmission of huge quantities of information at high speeds. Its products constitute part of the technological basis on which artificial intelligence algorithms run. A year ago, US company Nvidia announced its acquisition of Mellanox for $6.9 billion. Regulatory approval for the deal has not yet been obtained, and Waldman says that the two companies are still waiting for approval from the Chinese regulator, the only one that has not yet approved.
The technology industry is now being affected by the coronavirus, both because of Chinese consumers and because many industrial plants are located in China.
"It's not a nice thing to say, but it's having a positive effect on us. We're always afraid of such problems, because we had the tsunami in Japan, and we had a plant burned down in Asia," Waldman says. "So we always make shock absorbers in the form of inventory, so that we'll have a continuous supply. We always build inventory before the Chinese new year, because we know that there will be problems - 25% of the Chinese labor force doesn't go back to work after the holiday.
"We have a lot of production and many customers in China. Over 25% of our revenue comes from China. Only two of our plants haven't resumed 100% production, and we moved part of them to Indonesia, India, and Taiwan. Supply to our customers hasn't been affected. On the other hand, we see that many concerns, including in China, are preparing to build computer rooms, so that it will be possible to study and work from home, and this requires a bigger cloud. We're seeing growth in orders in order to build bigger and more efficient clouds. We're also building super-computers in order to find a vaccine for the coronavirus, so we may even benefit a little from it."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 25, 2020
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