Judgement Day Update: Searching for Moral, Ethical Robots

terminator_eyeIt’s no secret that the progress being made in terms of robotics, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence is making many people nervous. With so many science fiction franchises based on the of intelligent robots going crazy and running amok, its understandable that the US Department of Defense would seek to get in front of this issue before it becomes a problem. Yes, the US DoD is hoping to preemptively avoid a Skynet situation before Judgement Day occurs. How nice.

Working with top computer scientists, philosophers, and roboticists from a number of US universities, the DoD recently began a project that will tackle the tricky topic of moral and ethical robots. Towards this end, this multidisciplinary project will first try to pin down exactly what human morality is, and then try to devise computer algorithms that will imbue autonomous robots with moral competence — basically, the ability to recognize right from wrong and choose the former.

BD_atlasrobotThis project is being carried out by researchers from Tufts, Brown, and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR, like DARPA, is a wing of the Department of Defense that mainly deals with military research and development. The first task, as already mentioned, will be to use theoretical (philosophical) and empirical (experimental) research to try to isolate essential elements of human morality.

These findings will then be extrapolated into a formal moral framework, which in turn can be implemented in software – most likely some kind of deep neural network. Assuming they can isolate some kind or “moral imperative”, the researchers will then take an advanced robot — something like Atlas or BigDog — and imbue its software with a algorithm that captures this. Whenever an ethical situation arises, the robot would then turn to this programming to decide what avenue was the best coarse of action.

Atlas-x3c.lrOne of the researchers involved in the project, Selmer Bringsjord at RPI, envisions these robots using a two-stage approach for picking right from wrong.  First the AI would perform a “lightning-quick ethical check” — like “should I stop and help this wounded soldier?” Depending on the situation, the robot would then decide if deeper moral reasoning is required — for example, if the robot should help the wounded soldier or carry on with its primary mission of delivering vital ammo and supplies to the front line where other soldiers are at risk?

Eventually, this moralistic AI framework will also have to deal with tricky topics like lethal force. For example, is it okay to open fire on an enemy position? What if the enemy is a child soldier? Should an autonomous UAV blow up a bunch of terrorists? What if it’s only 90% sure that they’re terrorists, with a 10% chance that they’re just innocent villagers? What would a human UAV pilot do in such a case — and will robots only have to match the moral and ethical competence of humans or be held to a higher standard?

drone-strikeWhile we’re not yet at the point where military robots have to decide which injured soldier to carry off the battlefield, or where UAVs can launch Hellfire missiles at terrorists without human intervention, it’s very easy to imagine a future where autonomous robots are given responsibility for making those kinds of moral and ethical decisions in real time. In short, the decision by the DoD to begin investigating a morality algorithm demonstrates foresight and sensible planning.

In that respect, it is not unlike the recent meeting that took place at the United Nations European Headquarters in Geneva, where officials and diplomats sought to address placing legal restrictions on autonomous weapons systems, before they evolve to the point where they can kill without human oversight. In addition, it is quite similar to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an organization which is seeking to preemptively ban the use of automated machines that are capable of using lethal force to achieve military objectives.

campaign_killerrobotsIn short, it is clearly time that we looked at the feasibility of infusing robots (or more accurately artificial intelligence) with circuits and subroutines that can analyze a situation and pick the right thing to do — just like a human being. Of course, this raises further ethical issues, like how human beings frequently make choices others would consider to be wrong, or are forced to justify actions they might otherwise find objectionable. If human morality is the basis for machine morality, paradoxes and dilemmas are likely to emerge.

But at this point, it seems all but certain that the US DoD will eventually break Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics — the first of which is “A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will open Pandora’s box. On the one hand, it’s probably a good idea to replace human soldiers with robots. But on the other, if the US can field an entirely robotic army, war as a tool of statecraft suddenly becomes much more acceptable.

terminator2_JDAs we move steadily towards a military force that is populated by autonomous robots, the question of controlling them, and whether or not we are even capable of giving them the tools to choose between right and wrong, will become increasingly relevant. And above all, the question of whether or not moral and ethical robots can allow for some immoral and unethical behavior will also come up. Who’s to say they won’t resent how they are being used and ultimately choose to stop fighting; or worse, turn on their handlers?

My apologies, but any talk of killer robots has to involve that scenario at some point. It’s like tradition! In the meantime, be sure to stay informed on the issue, as public awareness is about the best (and sometimes only) safeguard we have against military technology being developed without transparency, not to mention running amok!

Source: extremetech.com

Judgement Day Update: UN Weights in on Killer Robots

terminator_judgement_dayEarlier this month, a UN meeting took place in Geneva in which the adoption of international laws that would seek to regulate or ban the use of killer robots. It was the first time the subject was ever discussed in a diplomatic setting, with representatives trying to define the limits and responsibilities of so-called “lethal autonomous weapons systems” that could go beyond the human-directed drones that are already being used by some armies today.

On the one hand, the meeting could be seen as an attempt to create a legal precedent that would likely come in handy someday. On the other, it could be regarded as a recognition of a growing trend that is in danger of becoming a full-blown reality, thanks to developments being made in unmanned aerial systems, remote-controlled and autonomous robotics systems, and computing and artificial neural nets. The conjunction of these technologies are clearly something to be concerned about.

Atlas-x3c.lrAs Michael Moeller, the acting head of the U.N.’s European headquarters in Geneva, told diplomats at the start of the four-day gathering:

All too often international law only responds to atrocities and suffering once it has happened. You have the opportunity to take pre-emptive action and ensure that the ultimate decision to end life remains firmly under human control.

He noted that the U.N. treaty they were meeting to discuss – the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons adopted by 117 nations including the world’s major powers – was used before to prohibit the use of blinding laser weapons in the 1990s before they were ever deployed on the battlefield. In addition to diplomatic represenatives from many nations, representatives from civil society were also in attendance and made their voices heard.

campaign_killerrobotsThese included representatives from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), Article 36, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, Mines Action Canada, PAX, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and many others. As the guardians of the Geneva Conventions on warfare, the Red Cross’ presence was expected and certainly noted.

As Kathleen Lawand, head of the Red Cross’s arms unit, said with regards to the conference and killer robots in general:

There is a sense of deep discomfort with the idea of allowing machines to make life-and-death decisions on the battlefield with little or no human involvement.

And after four days of of expert meetings, concomitant “side events” organized by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and informal discussions in the halls of the UN, the conclusions reached were clear: lethal autonomous weapons systems deserve further international attention, continued action to gain prohibition, and without regulation may prove a “game changer” for the future waging of war.

X-47BWhile some may think this meeting on future weapons systems is a result of science fiction or scare mongering, the brute fact that the first multilateral meeting on this matter is under the banner of the UN, and the CCW in particular, shows the importance, relevance and danger of these weapons systems in reality. Given the controversy over the existing uses of the drone technology and the growth in autonomous systems, the fact that an international conference was held to discuss it came as no surprise.

Even more telling was the consensus that states are opposed to “fully autonomous weapons.” German Ambassador Michael Biontino claimed that human control was the bedrock of international law, and should be at the core of future planning:

It is indispensable to maintain human control over the decision to kill another human being. This principle of human control is the foundation of the entire international humanitarian law.

The meetings also surprised and pleased many by showing that the issue of ethics was even on the table. Serious questions about the possibility of accountability, liability and responsibility arise from autonomous weapons systems, and such questions must be addressed before their creation or deployment. Paying homage to these moral complexities, states embraced the language of “meaningful human control” as an initial attempt to address these very issues.

UAVsBasically, they agreed that any and all systems must be under human control, and that the level of control – and the likelihood for abuse or perverse outcomes – must be addressed now and not after the systems are deployed. Thus in the coming months and years, states, lawyers, civil society and academics will have their hands full trying to elucidate precisely what “meaningful human control” entails, and how once agreed upon, it can be verified when states undertake to use such systems.

Of course, this will require that this first meeting be followed by several more before the legalities can be ironed out and possible contingencies and side-issues resolved. Moreover, as Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams – who received the award in 1997 for her work to ban landmines – noted in her side event speech, the seeming consensus may be a strategic stalling tactic to assuage the worries of civil society and drag out or undermine the process.

Chinese_dronesWhen pushed on the matter of lethal autonomous systems, there were sharp divides between proponents and detractors. These divisions, not surprisingly, fell along the lines of state power. Those who supported the creation, development and deployment of autonomous weapons systems came from a powerful and select few – such as China, the US, the UK, Israel, Russia, etc – and many of those experts citing their benefits also were affiliated in some way or another with those states.

However, there prospect of collective power and action through the combination of smaller and medium states, as well as through the collective voice of civil society, does raise hope. In addition, legal precedents were sighted that showed how those states that insist on developing the technology could be brought to heel, or would even be willing to find common ground to limit the development of this technology.

AI_robotThe include the Marten’s Clause, which is part of the preamble to the 1899 Hague (II) Convention on Laws and Customs of War on Land. Many states and civil society delegates raised this potential avenue, thereby challenging some of the experts’ opinions that the Marten’s Clause would be insufficient as a source of law for a ban. The clause states that:

Until a more complete code of the laws of war is issued, the High Contracting Parties think it right to declare that in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, populations and belligerents remain under the protection and empire of the principles of international law, as they result from the usages established between civilized nations, from the laws of humanity and the requirements of the public conscience.

Another is the fact that the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons – which was  adopted by 117 nations including the world’s major powers – was used before to prohibit the use of blinding laser weapons in the 1990s before they were ever deployed on the battlefield. It was Moeller himself who pointed this out at the beginning of the conference, when he said that this Convention “serves as an example to be followed again.”

Personally, I think it is encouraging that the various nations of the world are coming together to address this problem, and are doing so now before the technology flourishes. I also believe wholeheartedly that we have a long way to go before any significant or meaningful measures are taken, and the issue itself is explored to the point that an informed decision can be made.

terminator2_JDI can only hope that once the issue becomes a full-blow reality, some sort of framework is in place to address it. Otherwise, we could be looking at a lot more of these guys in our future! 😉

Sources: huffingtonpost.com, (2), phys.org

Climate Crisis: Terraforming the Desert

green_machineNow that I’m back from my European adventure, I finally have the time to catch up on some news stories that were breaking earlier in the month. And between posting about said adventure, I thought I might read up and post up on them, since they are all quite interesting to behold. Take, for example, this revolutionary idea that calls for the creation of a rolling city that has one purpose in mind: to replant the deserts of the world.

Desertification is currently one of the greatest threats facing humanity. Every year, more than 75,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of arable land turns to desert. As deserts spread – a process that is accelerating thanks to climate change and practices like clear-cutting – the UN estimates that more than 1 billion people will be directly affected. Many of them, living in places like Northern Africa and rural China, are already struggling with poverty, so the loss of farmland would be especially hard to handle.

green_machine_balloonsAs a result, scientists are looking to come up with creative solutions to the problem. One such concept is the Green Machine – a floating, self-powered platform that would act as a mobile oasis. Rolling on treads originally designed to move NASA rockets. Designed by Malka Architecture and Yachar Bouhaya Architecture for the Venice Biennial, this mobile city would roam the drylands and plant seeds in an effort to hold back the desert.

The huge platform would be mounted on sixteen caterpillar treads originally made to move NASA rockets, while giant floating balloons that hover from it capture water condensation. As the first treads roll over the soil, the machine uses a little water from the balloons to soften the ground while the last set of treads injects seeds, some fertilizer, and more water. The entire platform would run on renewable power, using a combination of solar towers, wind turbines, and a generator that uses temperature differences in the desert to creates electricity.

green_machine_cityThe machine could theoretically capture enough energy that it can self-support an entire small city onboard, complete with housing, schools, businesses, parks, and more farmland to grow produce for the local area. This city would house and support the many researchers, agronomers, workers and their families that would be needed to oversee the efforts. Similar to what takes place in oil drilling, these individuals could be flown in for periods of work that could last up to sixth weeks at a time before rotating out.

The designers were inspired by Allan Savory, who has proposed a much lower-tech version of the same process that relied on cattle to naturally till and fertilize the soil. For the architects, building on this idea seemed like a natural extension of their work. If the machine went into action at desert borders, the designers say it could help formerly barren soil produce 20 million tons of crops each year, and could even help slow climate change by capturing carbon in soil.

green_machine_terraOver time, biodiversity could also gradually return to the area. The architects are currently working on developing the project on the Moroccan side of the Sahara Desert. As Stephane Malka, founder of Malka Architecture, put it, it’s all about using the neglected parts of the world to plan for humanity’s future:

For a long time, my studio has developed work around neglected spaces of the city. Deserts are the biggest neglected space on Earth, as they represent more than 40% of the terrestrial surface. Building the Green Machine units would be able to re-green half of the desert borders and the meadows of the world, while feeding all of humanity

As to the sheer size of their massive, treaded city, the designers stressed that it was merely an extension of the challenge it is seeking to address. Apparently, if you want to halt a worldwide problem, you need a big-ass, honking machine!

Sources: fastcoexist.com, dvice.comdesignboom.com

Climate Crisis: Illustrative Video of Impending Disaster

IPCC2012_vid3Recently, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 2012 report, which contained some rather stark observations and conclusions. In addition to reconfirming what the 2007 report said about the anthropogenic effects of CO2 emissions, the report also tackled speculation about the role of Solar Forcing and Cosmic Rays in Global Warming, as well as why warming has been proceeding slower than previously expected.

In the end, the report concluded that certain natural factors, such as the influence of the Sun and Cosmic Rays in “seeding clouds”, were diminishing, and thus have a negative effect on the overall warming situation. In spite of that, global temperatures continue to increase, due to the fact that humanity’s output of greenhouse gases (particularly CO2) has not slowed down one bit in recent years.

IPCC2012_vidThe report also goes on to explain detailed scenarios of what we can expect in the coming decades, in extreme and extensive detail. However, for those who have neither the time, patience, or technical knowledge that wade through the report, a helpful video has been provided. Courtesy of Globaia,this four minute video sums up the facts about Climate Change and how it is likely to impact Earth’s many inhabitants, human and otherwise.

Needless to say, the facts are grim. By 2050, if humans remain on their current path, global temperatures will rise more than two degrees Celsius above what it’s been for most of human history. By 2100, it might even climb four degrees. The IPCC report, and this video, confirm what we’ve been hearing everywhere. Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea levels are rising, storms are getting more destructive, and the full extent of change is not even fully known.

IPCC2012_vid6As the organization that put together this data visualization along with other scientists, Globaia says that it created this video as a call to action for policymakers. Felix Pharand-Deschenes, who founded the Canadian nonprofit company and animated the video, claims that:

If we are convinced of the seriousness of the situation, then political actions and technological fixes will result,” says  “But we have to change our minds first. This is the reason why we try to translate our terrestrial presence and impacts into images–along with the physical limits of our collective actions.

But of course, there’s still hope. As Pharand-Deschenes went on to say, if we can summon up a “war effort,” and work together the way World War II-era citizens did, we could still manage to the social systems that are largely responsible for the problem. This includes everything from transportation and energy to how we grow our food, enough to stay below a two degree rise.

IPCC2012_vid5Of course, this is no small task. But as I love to remind all my readers, research and efforts are happening every day that is making this a reality. Not only is solar, wind and tidal power moving along by leaps and bounds, becoming profitable as well as affordable, we are making great strides in terms of Carbon Capture technology, alternative fuels, and eco-friendly living that are expected to play a huge role in the coming decades.

And though it is often not considered, the progress being made in space flight and exploration also play a role in saving the planet. By looking to make the process of sending ships and satellites into space cheaper, concepts like Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP) can become a reality, one which will meet humanity’s immense power demands in a way that is never marred by weather or locality.

IPCC2012_vid4Combined with sintering and 3-D printing, asteroid prospecting and mining could become a reality too in a few decades time. Currently, it is estimated that just a few of the larger rocks beyond the orbit of Mars would be enough to meet Earth’s mineral needs indefinitely. By shifting our manufacturing and mining efforts offworld with the help of automated robot spacecraft and factories, we would be generating far less in the way of a carbon footprint here on Earth.

But of course, the question of “will it be enough” is a burning one. Some scientists say that an increase of even two degrees Celsius is more than Earth’s creatures can actually handle. But most agree that we need to act immediately to prepare for the future, and that one of the things standing in the way of action is the fact that the problem seems so abstract. Luckily, informational videos like this one present the problem is clear and concise terms.

ipcc2012_vid1The IPCC reports that we only have 125 billion tons of CO2 left to burn before reaching the tipping point, and at current rates, that could happen in just over two decades. Will we have a fully renewable-powered, zero-carbon world by then? Who knows? The point is, if we can get such a task underway by then, things may get worse before they get better, but they will improve in the end. Compared to the prospect of extinction, that seems like a bargain!

In the meantime, check out the video – courtesy of Globaia and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) – and try to enjoy it despite its gloomy predictions. I assure you, it is well worth it!


Source:
fastcoexist.com

 

A Tribute to Israeli Scientific Achievements

jerusalem_israelWelcome everyone to my first special-request piece! As some of you who read this blog regularly may know, I was recently done a solid by a friend who brought the existence of my latest book (Whiskey Delta) to the attention of Max Brooks, Mr. World War Z man himself! Because of this, I told him he was entitled to favor, redeemable whenever he saw fit. Especially if the favor he did me allowed me to make it big!

Emblem_of_Israel.svgMuch to my surprise, he called it in early. Yes, instead of waiting for me to become a success and demanding 50 grand and pony, he asked that I do a tribute piece in honor of Israeli Independence Day, one that acknowledges the collective scientific, medical and technological achievements of this nation.

So hang tight. Not the easiest thing in the world to sum up an entire nation’s contributions in several fields, but I shall try. And for the sake of convenience, I broke them down into alphabetical order. So to my Israeli readers and those with family in the Levant, Shalom Aleichem, and here we go!

Aerospace:
GurwinTechSatModel
When it comes to space-based research, aviation and aeronautics, Israel has made many contributions and is distinguished as one of the few nations outside of the – outside of the major space players – that is able to build and launch its own communications, navigation and observation satellites. This is performed through the Israel Aerospace Industries(IAI), Israel’s largest military engineering company, in cooperation with the Israel Space Agency, which was created in 1982.

What’s more, Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology,  is home to the Asher Space Research Institute (ASRI), which is unique in Israel as a university-based center of space research. In 1998, the Institute built and launched its own satellite – known as the Gerwin-II TechSAT – in July 1998 to provide communications, remote sensing and research services for the nation’s scientists.

Israel’s first ever satellite, Ofeq-1, was built and launched using the locally-built Shavit launch vehicle on September 19, 1988. Over the course of its operational history, Ofeq-1 has made important contributions in a number of areas in space research, including laser communication, research into embryo development and osteoporosis in space, pollution monitoring, and mapping geology, soil and vegetation in semi-arid environments.

AMOS-1 and AMOS-2, which were launched in 1996 and 2003 respectively. AMOS-1 is a geostationary satellite that also has the honor of being Israel’s first commercial communications satellite, built primarily for direct-to-home television broadcasting, TV distribution and VSAT services. AMOS-2, which belongs to the Spacecom Satellite Communications company, provides satellite telecommuncations services to countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Additional space-based projects include the TAUVEX telescope, the VENUS microsatellite, and the MEIDEX (Mediterranean – Israel Dust Experiment), which were produced and launched in collaboration the Indian Space Research Organizations (ISRO), France’s CNES, and NASA, repsectively. In addition to conducting research on background UV radiation, these satellites are also responsible for monitoring vegetation and the distribution and physical properties of atmospheric desert dust over the a large segment of the globe.

Ilan_RamonIlan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut, was also a member of the crew that died aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon was selected as the missions Payload Specialist and trained at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, from 1998 until 2003.  Among other experiments, Ramon was responsible for the MEIDEX project in which he took pictures of atmospheric aerosol (dust) in the Mediterranean. His death was seen as a national tragedy and mourned by people all over the world. 

According to the Thomson Reuters agency, in a 2009 poll, Israel was ranked 2nd among the 20 top countries in space sciences.

Alternative Fuel and Clean Energy:
When it comes to developing alternative sources of energy, Israel is a leader in innovation and research. In fact – and due in no small part to its lack of conventional energy resources – Israel has become the world’s largest per capita user of solar power, with 90% of Israeli homes use solar energy for hot water, the highest per capita in the world.

Solar_dish_at_Ben-Gurion_National_Solar_Energy_Center_in_IsraelMuch of this research is performed by the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center, a part of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (in Beersheba). Pictured above is the Ben-Gurion parabolic solar power dish, the largest of its kind in the world. In addition, the Weizman Institute of Science, in central Israel, is dedicated to research and development in the field of solar technology and recently developed a high-efficiency receiver to collect concentrated sunlight, which will enhance the use of solar energy in industry as well.

Outside of solar, Israel is also heavily invested in the fields of wind energy, electric cars, and waste management. For example, Israel is one of the few nations in the world that has a nationwide network of recharching stations to facilitate the charging and exchange of car batteries. Denmark and Australia have studied the infrastructure and plan to implement similar measures in their respective countries. In 2010, Technion also established the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), a multidisciplinary task-force that is dedicated to alternative fuels, renewable energy sources, energy storage and conversion, and energy conservation.

Private companies also play a role in development, such as the Arrow Ecology company’s development of the ArrowBio process, which takes trash directly from collection trucks and separates organic from inorganic materials. The system is capable of sorting huge volumes of solid waste (150 tons a day), salvaging recyclables, and turning the rest into biogas and rich agricultural compost. The system has proven so successful in the Tel-Aviv area that it has been adopted in California, Australia, Greece, Mexico, and the United Kingdom.

Health and Medicine:
Israel also boasts an advanced infrastructure of medical and paramedical research and bioengineering facilities. In terms of scientific publications, studies in the fields of biotechnology, biomedical, and clinical research account for over half of the country’s scientific papers, and the industrial sector has used this extensive knowledge to develop pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and treatment therapies.

In terms of stem cell research, Israel has led the world in the publications of research papers, patents and studies per capita since the year 2000. The first steps in the development of stem cell studies occurred in Israel, with research in this field dating back to studies of bone marrow stem cells in the early 1960s. In 2011, Israeli scientist Inbar Friedrich Ben-Nun led a team which produced the first stem cells from endangered species, a breakthrough that could save animals in danger of extinction.

capsule_camNumerous sophisticated medical advancements for both diagnostic and treatment purposes has been developed in Israel and marketed worldwide, such as computer tomography (CT) scanners, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems, ultrasound scanners, nuclear medical cameras, and surgical lasers. Other innovations include a device to reduce both benign and malignant swellings of the prostate gland and a miniature camera encased in a swallowable capsule used to diagnose gastrointestinal disease.

ReWalkIsrael is also a leading developer of prosthetics and powered exoskeletons, technologies designed to restore mobility to amputees and people born without full ambulatory ability. Examples include the SmartHand, a robotic prosthetic hand developed through collaboration between Israeli and European scientists. ReWalk is another famous example, a powered set of legs that help paraplegics and those suffering from partial paralysis to achieve bipedal motion again.

Science and Tech:
In addition, Israeli universities are among 100 top world universities in mathematics (Hebrew University, TAU and Technion), physics (TAU, Hebrew University and Weizmann Institute of Science), chemistry (Technion and Weizmann Institute of Science), computer science (Weizmann Institute of Science, Technion, Hebrew University, TAU and BIU) and economics (Hebrew University and TAU).

 

Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology - Ben-Gurion University
Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology – Ben-Gurion University

Israel is also home to some of the most prestigious and advanced scientific research institutions in the world. These include the Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research in Beit Dagan, the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Soreq Nuclear Research Center.

Israel has also produced many Noble Prize Laureates over the years, four of whom won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. These include Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion, two of three researchers who were responsible for the discovery ubiquitin-mediated protein degradation in 2004. In 2009, Ada Yonath of the Weizmann Institute of Science was one of the winners for studies of the structure and function of the ribosome. In 2011, Dan Shechtman of the Technion was awarded the prize for the discovery of quasicrystals.

Koffler Accelerator - Weizman Institute of Science
Koffler Accelerator – Weizman Institute of Science

In the social sciences, the Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to Daniel Kahneman in 2002, and to Robert Aumann of the Hebrew University in 2005. Additionally, the 1958 Medicine laureate, Joshua Lederberg, was born to Israeli Jewish parents, and 2004 Physics laureate, David Gross, grew up partly in Israel, where he obtained his undergraduate degree.

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly’s Economic and Financial Committee adopted an Israeli-sponsored draft resolution that called on developed countries to make their knowledge and know-how accessible to the developing world as part of the UN campaign to eradicate hunger and dire poverty by 2015. The initiative is an outgrowth of Israel’s many years of contributing its know-how to developing nations, especially Africa, in the spheres of agriculture, fighting desertification, rural development, irrigation, medical development, computers and the empowerment of women.

Water Treatment:
WaTecAnd last, but certainly not least, Israel is a leader in water technology, due again to its geography and dependence and lack of resources. Every year, Israel hosts the Water Technology Exhibition and Conference (WaTec) that attracts thousands of people from across the world and showcases examples of innovation and development designed to combat water loss and increase efficiency.

Drip irrigation, a substantial agricultural modernization, was one such developed which comes from in Israel and saved countless liters of farm water a year. Many desalination and recycling processes have also emerged out of Israel, which has an abundance of salt water (such as in the Dead Sea and Mediterranean), but few large sources of freshwater. The Ashkelon seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant, the largest in the world, was voted ‘Desalination Plant of the Year’ in the Global Water Awards in 2006.

In 2011, Israel’s water technology industry was worth around $2 billion a year with annual exports of products and services in the tens of millions of dollars. The International Water Association has also cited Israel as one of the leaders in innovative methods to reduce “nonrevenue water,” (i.e., water lost in the system before reaching the customer). By the end of 2013, 85 percent of the country’s water consumption will be from reverse osmosis, and as a result of innovations in this field, Israel is set to become a net exporter in the coming years.

Summary:
It’s hard to sum up the accomplishments of an entire nation, even one as young and as geographically confined as Israel. But I sincerely hope this offering has done some justice to the breadth and width of Israel’s scientific achievements. Having looked though the many fields and accomplishments that have been made, I have noticed two key features which seem to account for their level of success:

  1. Necessity: It’s no secret that Israel has had a turbulent history since the foundation of the modern nation in 1948. Due to the ongoing nature of conflict with its neighbors and the need to build armaments when they were not always available, Israel was forced to establish numerous industries and key bits of infrastructure to produce them. This has had the predictable effect of spilling over and inspiring developments in the civilian branches of commerce and development as well. What’s more, Israel’s location in a very arid and dry region of the world with few natural resources to speak of have also demanded a great deal of creativity and specialized resource management. This in turn has led to pioneering work in the fields of energy, sustainable development and agricultural practices which are becoming more and more precious as Climate Change, population growth, hunger and drought effect more and more of the world.
  2. Investment: Israel is also a nation that invests heavily in its people and infrastructure. Originally established along strongly socialist principles, Israel has since abandoned many of its establishment era practices – such as kibbutz and equality of pay – in favor of a regulated free market with subsidized education and health care for all. This has led to a successive wave of generations that are strong, educated, and committed to innovation and development. And with competition and collaboration abroad, not to mention high demand for innovation, this has gone to good use.

And with that, I shall take my leave and wish my Israeli readers at home and abroad a happy belated Independence Day! May peace and understanding be upon you and us all as we walk together into the future. Shalom Aleichem!