Tesla mogul Elon Musk visits Israel, to meet AI startup Cortica

Musk on Tuesday says the Cortica report is ‘completely false’; has breakfast with Netanyahu

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Inventor Elon Musk. (CC BY Heisenberg Media/Wikipedia)
Inventor Elon Musk. (CC BY Heisenberg Media/Wikipedia)

Elon Musk, the CEO of electric-car maker Tesla is in Israel to meet with Israeli startup Cortica, a maker of artificial intelligence technology for use in autonomous cars, a person familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel.

The idea is to see if the technology developed by the firm can be integrated into the Tesla cars, the person said.

Later on Tuesday, Musk said in a Twitter post that the report was “completely false.”

“Never even heard of Cortica. Just taking my kids on a Spring Break trip to see ancient historical sites in Israel & Jordan,” Musk said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he met with Musk in the morning, calling him “perhaps the greatest technological visionary of our time. He is a genius.”.

Addressing a conference in the Negev, Netanyahu said Musk referred to Israel as a “technological power” and that he appreciates “what we are doing here.”

Netanyahu added that Musk referred to the Negev desert as “the energy future of the State of Israel”, with the region capable of meeting all of the nation’s energy needs. “You could spread solar systems here that would give you more energy than you need or could need. Clean energy,” Netanyahu said, citing Musk. “If you only want it.”

Cortica, founded in 2007 by Karina Odinaev, Igal Raichelgauz, and Yehoshua Zeevi, is developing AI technology designed to create a computer vision system. The company has based its technology on brain research and is translating how the brain works into algorithms that aim to imitate the way the brain processes information. Using unsupervised machine learning — the same process that the human brain uses to incorporate data, the Artificial Intelligence system learns to classify and organize information it receives independently.

“Cortica’s Autonomous AI learns on its own in real time and interacts with the real world and collaborates with other machines,” the company says on its website. Cortica believes its technologies will enable autonomous cars to better adapt to different road situations. The company has some 100 workers including AI researchers and veterans of elite Israeli military intelligence units, the website says.

According to data on Start-up Nation Finder, the database of Startup Nation Central, the Tel Aviv-based company also has offices in New York, and has raised some $60 million dollars, to date. Its investors include Horizon Ventures, Mair.RU Group, and Ynon Kreiz.

The South African-born Canadian American billionaire entrepreneur Musk has posted pictures of himself in Israel on Instagram, causing a spur of speculation in the tech community as to why he is in Israel.

The Haaretz website said on Tuesday that officials in Israel’s Transportation Ministry recently held talks with Musk on the possibility of importing the Tesla autonomous cars to Israel.

Musk’s previous visit to Israel was reportedly two years ago, to meet with Mobileye officials at the car sensor plant in Jerusalem. That visit was kept under wraps, with Musk arriving and departing in his private jet. Following the visit, Musk integrated Mobileye’s sensors into his Tesla cars, Globes reported.

In July 2016, Mobileye said its contract with Tesla would not be renewed, without providing a reason for the split between the two firms.

The split followed a fatal accident in May that year, when a male driver crashed his Tesla car and died. The incident spurred debates in the industry about the safety of self-driving vehicles, and the hunt is on for technologies to find the best ways to keep drivers and pedestrians safe. In March last year, Mobileye was acquired by Intel for $15.3 billion.

Emails sent to Cortica seeking comment have not yet received a response.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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