Tesla Denies Elon Musk in Talks With Israeli AI Firm on Collaboration

Reports said Musk was in Israel to discuss a deal between Tesla and the Tel Aviv-based Cortica

FILE PHOTO: SpaceX founder Elon Musk  at a press conference following the first launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, February 6, 2018.
Joe Skipper / Reuters

U.S. electric car company Tesla said Tuesday that Chief Executive Elon Musk, who was visiting Israel, did not discuss a collaboration with artificial intelligence firm Cortica.

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The denial comes on the day Benjamin Netanyahu met with Musk, who strongly urged the prime minister to ensure that Israel exploits it southern, arid Negev region for solar energy. Netanyahu said he very much agreed.

The Globes financial news website had reported that Musk, the entrepreneur behind the ambitious SpaceX and Tesla projects, was in Israel to discuss a deal between Tesla and the Tel Aviv-based Cortica.

“The reports that Musk was in Israel to discuss a collaboration between Tesla and Cortica are completely false; he was in Israel, but not to meet or have discussions with Cortica,” said a Tesla spokesman based in Palo Alto, California.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at  the Negev Conference in Dimona, March 20, 2018.
Amos Ben Gershom / GPO

Cortica says its technology lets self-driving cars make informed decisions, even including predictions of changes likely to occur. Officials at Cortica could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cortica has raised nearly $70 million since it was founded in 2007. Investors include Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures and Russia’s Mail.ru Group, according to Start-Up National Central.

Netanyahu met with Musk at the Negev Conference in Dimona. “This morning before coming here I met with Elon Musk, a man of vision, perhaps the greatest technological visionary in our generation. He’s a genius. He told me: ‘Israel is a technological powerhouse,’” Netanyahu said at the conference.

“He said he admires what we’re doing here. And then he said, on his own initiative ... he told me: ‘The Negev can provide you with all your energy needs. The Negev is Israel’s energy future. You can deploy solar systems here that will give you more energy than you need and more than you will need. Clean energy,'” Netanyahu added.

“I’m telling you what he told me: ‘If only you want it’ – and I’m telling you, I want it. I want a bustling, flourishing and developing Negev. And we’ll continue to do it, to develop it as has never been done before in Israel’s history.”

The South-African born Musk is spending a few days in Israel but the purpose of his visit was not immediately clear.

The trip was revealed after he posted photos on his Instagram account this week; he is seen in a Jerusalem bar and wrote “Learning how to pour flaming absinthe over a tower of glasses in a Jerusalem speakeasy.” Later he also posted pictures from Masada.

In Dimona, Netanyahu and Musk also spoke about the international car industry and the future of self-driving cars.

Tesla does not have an Israeli office. Its partnership with Israeli auto-tech company Mobileye ended in acrimony in 2016 over responsibility for accidents involving self-driving cars. The following year, Intel acquired Mobileye for $15.3 billion.

Also in 2016, SpaceX was responsible for the explosion on the launchpad of a rocket carrying Israel’s Amos 6 satellite.

Musk’s visit also comes as Tesla faces an exodus of managers who claim that many of the components made in the company’s California plant are defective.

Two years ago Tesla acquired San Mateo, California-based SolarCity, which produces solar-power systems for private consumers and businesses, for $2.6 billion in shares. Previously, Musk served as SolarCity's chairman and was the largest shareholder in the company, which was founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive.

With Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity, the company now offers solar panels, home battery storage systems and electric cars under one brand name. A Tesla system includes the installation of solar panels on a home's roof and a battery that can provide all the home’s electricity needs.