Holylandings

'I Didn’t Choose to Move to Israel. It Was Accidental'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A high-tech man explains why cab drivers shouldn't be worried about self-driving cars, and Israeli army sweethearts describe how they met

Alex Agizim.
Tomer Appelbaum

Alex Agizim, 49, from Herzliya; arriving from Frankfurt

Hello, can I ask what you did in Germany?

It was a work trip. I work in computers, for a company that provides software solutions for cars.

Do cars have software problems?

We deal with automotive systems that reside in the cloud. For connected cars.

Please speak a language that humans can understand.

For example, you come to a certain place somewhere and you rent a car. It will be already loaded with your “custom reference” – all your preferences: radio stations, navigation system and your insurance policy. Everything you usually use.

The aspiration is to make you feel like you’re at home.

Yes, and to give you all these solutions and make it possible for you to get your preferences, the system needs to be connected to a cloud, and so companies have to develop services that will make it possible to get connected. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The future is completely automated cars, no?

We’re working on a revolution in the world of automobiles. It’s fascinating. I think it’s the dumbest thing for us to get into a car and drive.

Do you like driving?

I do, but in the future, driving will be a pleasure and not a necessity. Most people won’t drive. On weekdays, I’ll be happy to have an automatic car, and on weekends I see myself going to some special place to drive my car, for the fun of it. Today we just waste an hour and a half at the wheel, when we could spend the time doing something productive. Actually, driving is something a robot could do better than we can.

And there won’t be any accidents.

That’s actually one of the problems, in my opinion. You, like most people, anticipate that robots won’t have any accidents at all. But they will have accidents – just a lot fewer than we do. The robots will also be improving their driving skill all the time. They will be able to learn. But some people are worried about this.

Who’s worried?

Taxi drivers. When I come back from abroad and taxi drivers ask me what I do and I explain it, they always get stressed out. There’s no reason for that, because in the future taxi drivers will simply be able to dispatch a fleet of automatic cars. While they sit at home on the sofa having a carefree cup of coffee, the robots will rush around the city and earn them a living. And it’s the same for semitrailer drivers.

No wonder they get uptight.

I think it would be very foolish not to do it just because we’re afraid that something could go wrong. That’s how it is with technology – at first people are afraid, and eventually, everyone ends up using it. 

How many years have you been in high-tech?

For 26 years, from the moment I finished university and arrived in Israel.

Why did you choose to immigrate to Israel?

I didn’t choose. It was accidental. I was 23 at the time, and whatever a person of 23 chooses is accidental. 

What’s changed during this period?

The truth is that when we examine what the computer did 30 years ago and what it does today, it’s exactly the same thing. But in the future that will change. I believe that already in another 15 years, we will be able to copy our brain from the biological body to the digital body.

Does that sound practical to you?

What is a human being? A collection of water that knows how to process incoming information and on that basis to create a new algorithm. All that can be realized with a computer.

Would you do a download of yourself?

Happily. I think the biological body makes things difficult and causes diseases.

And what about the pleasures of the senses?

Who said the senses will go? There are a great many questions. But the most interesting is whether, when man’s brain becomes digital, it will be possible to make copies of it. What would we do with the copies? Will each copy constitute an autonomous person? And if you erased a copy, would you be killing a person? Those are philosophical questions to which I don’t know the answers, but I really enjoy talking about them at work.

Ram Staier and Alona Haber.
Tomer Appelbaum

Ram Staier, 25, and Alona Haber 25, from Moshav Aminadav; flying to Addis Ababa

Hello, can I ask what you’ll be doing in Ethiopia?

Ram: We’re going on a trip with my family to celebrate my dad’s birthday.

Who’s included?

Ram: Dad, Mom, two brothers and my sister. It’s a bit of a modular trip: Mom is joining later, and in the end she and Alona are going back, and only the men and my younger sister will remain.

Alona: So they can climb Kilimanjaro.

Ram: Or at least try. The statistics aren’t all that positive: Only 10 percent finish the climb.

That’s a really low proportion. A bit stressful.

Ram: And I have a fear of heights. But we have all kinds of pills for altitude sickness, so I think we’ll be alright.

Can you climb a mountain if you have a fear of heights?

Ram: There aren’t such huge abysses, it just keeps getting higher. It’s like on Mount Hermon – you can experience fear of heights on the cable car, but not from standing on the peak.

Alona: The first version of this trip was to go to Norway last summer, but they couldn’t go because of Ram.

Ram: I was really busy in the summer.

Tomer (the photographer): Are you a lifeguard?

Ram: No, I manage a student project during the summer, called “Israeli Harvest.” We organized groups of 20-30 students during the vacation to help pick fruit, especially in the Galilee, the Golan Heights and the Arava.

What do you pick?

Ram: Apples, dates, mangos, pears, grapes. All kinds of deciduous fruits.

And the students climb the trees?

Ram: This year we had 350 students, from all the universities in Israel. We generally have a few more girls than boys, and I have to say that the girls work better than the boys.

Not surprising – but how do you explain that?

Ram: It’s monotonous work, many hours day after day, and the real difficulty isn’t physical – the challenge is psychological.

Do people grumble to you?

Endlessly, especially when it’s hot. This year there was also a problem, because the mangos blossomed.

It’s a problem when the mango blossoms?

Mangos emit a toxic resin when they’re picked, and it causes an allergic reaction in some people. Their stomachs turn red, also the hands, and the throat swells. At first people tried to be like ninjas – they covered themselves completely – but it didn’t work and they started to drop out.

Do they at least make good money?

Payment is according to output, depending on how many containers you fill. Besides that, there’s a scholarship from the Agriculture Ministry and the National Union of Israeli Students: 3,000 shekels [$850], provided you work 250 hours during the summer.

Where do you sleep?

It varies. We take over a tourist site or a kibbutz, and once we took over a whole block in Kiryat Shemona.

Alona, what do you do?

Alona: I’m a fourth-year student at the Academy of Music in Jerusalem, in the multidisciplinary vocal department.

How do you support yourself?

At the moment I’m working in the Yellow Submarine, which is a music center [and club] in Jerusalem where all the nicest people gather, and I’m also acting in a production of the Jerusalem Theater Group called “Three Queens and a Concubine,” by Gabriella Lev. It’s the stories of four women from the Bible: Abigail, Michal, Rizpah and Bathsheba. I play Abigail. She’s the only woman in the Bible of whom it’s said that she is beautiful and wise, which makes it even less clear how she, of all women, married a disgusting person like Nabal the Carmelite.

Do you also sing in the play?

Yes, and I even wrote the music for one of the songs.

Let’s hear a line from a song.

“I am to blame / I’m drawn to dogs and sonsofbitches / Daughter of a sonofabitch married to a sonofabitch.”

Looks to me like you’re more into nice guys.

Yes. We met in a Nahal [mixed combat-civilian service corps] group in the army and became very good friends, and he would pick me oranges to make juice, which I would drink for the iron. It sounds a bit geriatric, I know.

Ram: Our first kiss was under a tank at Latrun [Armored Corps memorial site].

Alona: Songs of gloom and fog ...

Ram: That’s how it all started.

Alona: And when we get back from Ethiopia, we’ll get a dog.