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Google Chief: Israeli Tech Sector Second Only to Silicon Valley, Ready to Create Unicorns

Israel’s technology sector has greatly matured in the past few years and is now second only to Silicon Valley when it comes to diversity of initiatives, Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, said while visiting Google’s research and development center in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

“I’m amazed to see how Israel has matured as the startup nation in the four years since I first visited,” he said in a Q&A with Google Israel managing director Yossi Mattias. “I am beginning to see companies that are on their way to being ‘unicorns,’ in other words worth a billion dollars, and they have more sophisticated growth strategies. For a relatively small country, Israel has a super role in global technological innovation. I can’t think of a place where you could see this diversity and the collection of initiatives aside from Silicon Valley. That is a pretty strong statement.”

Schmidt was in Israel to celebrate the tenth anniversary of his company’s Israeli R&D center, a place which “never ceases to surprise me and is creating advanced technology solutions,” he said. “And that’s logical. Israel has great expertise in analytics and mathematics and these are the specialties required by a company like Google.”

He told the audience that he expected machine learning—the ability of computers to learn without specifically being programmed—to improve the process of internet searches to such an extent that within five years, “the computer will help and advise us just like a regular person does,” without a person having to type anything at all.

Schmidt praised the machine learning exhibited by the Israeli company Mobileye, which makes a system that helps cars avoid accidents by learning from drivers’ behavior. “”We can say that a car’s vision has been completely solved,” Schmidt said. “The next stage is to interpret the data received during the vision process and create the car’s intuition just like a real person.” Mobileye is seen as Google’s biggest competitor in the race to create a fully self-driving car.

Schmidt’s confidence in Israel’s tech sector goes beyond words. Last year, a venture capital firm he founded invested $5 million in the Israeli cybersecurity startup Illusive Networks. Google bought the Israeli navigation app Waze in 2013 for $1.3 billion, at the time the largest ever such deal for a app.

[Photo: Amos Ben Gershom / GPO / FLASH90 ]