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Computer vision is one of the most promising frontiers in the technology world. It covers applications across dozens of industries, ranging from agriculture, to medicine, self-driving cars, and even shopping. All of these applications share the need for computers to figure out what their cameras are seeing, and for those computers to tell them what to do next.
This phenomenon is powered by a new generation of sophisticated cameras, especially on smartphones, just as the vast computing power needed to process millions of images has become much cheaper. There's one small nation at this industry's forefront, Israel. Here, things are being led by companies like Mobileye, which uses a dozen cheap cameras to guide prototype autonomous cars right through traffic. In 2017, Intel paid $15.3bn to acquire this technology.
Israeli start-ups working in computer vision have attracted more than $1bn in seed and venture capital funding over the past three years. That's up from just $56m in 2015. Israel has a huge advantage, a heavy concentration of engineers in a very small area, plus experience that they have built up through military applications of image-analysis technology. The development of massive databases has also given Israeli companies a valuable head start. These include Zebra Medical, which uses AI to scan millions of MRI and other images from around the world, eventually guiding radiologists to the slightest sign of disease.
At a startup called FDNA engineers have figured out how to use a picture of someone's face to try and reveal rare genetic disorders. Meanwhile, Trigo is racing against Amazon to perfect the technology for a cashier-less store, where cameras figure out what shoppers have in their baskets and charge them automatically. The system is being trialled in several hundred stores across Israel. As this industry continues to grow the applications of computer vision seem almost endless.