FASCINATED by science and maths in school, it may have seemed a short-odds bet to a young Mois Navon that he would eventually become a key player in Israel’s vibrant technology sector, but additionally becoming a rabbi would have seemed less likely.
A resident of Efrat, US-born Navon, who visited Australia last month as a guest of Caulfield Shule, cut his teeth in high-tech during the late 1990s dotcom boom, working for several companies, including one specialising in fibre-to-home communications.
Emerging from the 2000 bust, he dived into the field of image processing and detection, inspired by the work of Israeli tech guru Professor Amnon Shashua at Hebrew University, where the acclaimed computer scientist had developed a single-camera prototype. Traditionally, depth measurement had required stereoscopic “two-eyes” simulation, but managing two video streams was a hurdle to further development of these products for the vehicle market and other commercial applications.
Hired by Shashua along with other young engineers, Navon helped develop software that led to early adaptive cruise control for road vehicles. Employed by Israeli start-up Mobileye, he helped create its windscreen-mounted dashcam, which alerted motorists they were too close to another vehicle.
This product set the stage for integrated onboard devices under the banner of ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems), since adopted by manufacturers including BMW, Mazda and Cadillac, as have auto emergency braking and lane keeping assist system.
But speaking to The AJN during his Melbourne visit, Navon said what truly excites him is the prospect of full driving automation. He foresees a time, perhaps some decades away, when cars will be fully driverless.
The built infrastructure of cities will change – the need for carparks will diminish, as automated vehicles drive themselves home after depositing commuters at their offices, returning to pick them up. Cars will “talk to each other” as they move at typical speeds of 200 kilometres per hour, more safely than today’s driver-operated vehicles at less than half that speed.
Panel beaters and body shops will lose business as the number of collisions plummets, and car insurers will need to rethink their strategies.
In 2008, Navon, for years a Torah student, became an Orthodox rabbi, keen to further explore his conviction that Judaism gives a sense of purpose to life that technology cannot deliver. “Judaism has never failed me,” he asserted.
As a rabbi, he focuses on the complex interface between technology and ethics – with issues such as autonomous weapons and whether it is ethical, even in war, to kill an adversary using remotely controlled devices such as drones. “I’m publishing an article on this subject, in a book on AI and theology, and I’m bringing the Jewish perspective.”