"The empathy and pain we feel is for fear of it spreading to us - and that everyone will stand back"
Kira Radinsky, who immigrated from Ukraine, talks about emotion, survival, the ability to break away, her first meeting with her father at the age of 18, and about the likelihood that a third world war will break out
Dr. Kira Radinsky - co-founder, CEO & CTO of Diagnostic Robotics
"I immigrated to Israel at the age of 4, and like many immigrants we also immigrated with a very negative affinity to the former Soviet Union. My parents suffered greatly there and were happy for the opportunity to leave. It was very bad, it was a complicated time: the Chernobyl reactor exploded, there was radiation, there were places that were forbidden to approach and things that were not to be touched, there was a shortage of food, there was anti-Semitism, there was a limit to the number of Jews in schools and institutions of higher learning, and it was impossible to leave the country. They all lived somehow in a state of survival. Then, when the gates opened in 1989, everyone applied for visas to leave. And everyone really left in one day or so."
You have a family in Ukraine, cousins of your mother and your spouse. Don’t pictures of civilians hiding in the metro or of captured soldiers tear your heart out? Even the images of the Russian prisoners of war are a difficult spectacle to watch.
"Emotionally it does not do to me what it could have done if it had happened in Israel. It hurts me because people are being killed, but it does not affect me regarding the Ukrainian nation specifically because they are Ukrainians."
For most of the public, not just in Israel, it evokes a lot of emotions.
"The West places humanity as a supreme value, so we first connect to the pain of the affected people. But historically, cultures that were more aggressive, survived more. Many people now find it difficult to see the captured soldiers because 'it is not humane', but compared to cold-blooded murder, captivity is humane."
So where does Western pain come from, as you define it?
"I think the feeling of pain and empathy we feel is actually an expression of the fear that it will spread and reach us - and when it comes to us everyone will stand back. That's what's really hard, the consequences of that on you."
And it's hard for you too?
"I am troubled by the feeling that there is an upheaval of the world order and that it will spread from there and that it can easily get out of hand."
And that we will be heading towards a third world war?
"There is a fear that once it spreads to Finland, it is over. Because Norway understands it is next in line, then the NATO army must attack, the United States will join and the British will feel they have to dictate. It always starts with a narrow conflict between two countries. But there are not enough historical events to build patterns for World War III. "
What should Israel do?
"To decide what its position is."
I suppose the emotional stance is with the democratic Ukraine being attacked, but Israel has interests on the northern border and in Syria, which Russia influences.
"The position should determine where the values are against security, life vs democracy. Let's go to the extreme, who is willing to send their children to fight to defend Ukraine? Are we the watchdog of the world like the United States, or are we still a country trying to survive? I will understand any decision, but the worst thing is not to make a decision, no matter where the sentiment lies."
Israel wants to take a stand in favor of Ukraine, but is politically barred from doing so.
"We have to do what is right for us, we have enough problems here. That is why in this conflict Israel is becoming the Switzerland of yesteryear. The Ukrainians do not need to be sent prayers, but military aid and weapons. NATO, which was supposed to support them, is leaving them to manage it alone. In reality, you need to be your own first-line defender.".
You made a career out of forecasting diseases and riots, but you didn’t predict what is happening now in Ukraine?
"Predicting what is happening now is not difficult. Half the world has predicted what is happening now. The difficulty is to anticipate the long term. What happened in Russia is not an undeclared process. Putin has said since 2004 that Ukraine could not be part of NATO. In 2014, there were already fighting incidents. It is a continuation of a historic cold war."
We thought it was over a long time ago.
"Russia's revenues are mainly from oil and gas. The main pipeline that carries the gas passes through Ukraine. When Ukraine wants to join the NATO alliance, the Russians tell them: you can do it, but we will start taking our territories back. Now they have really started to do something about it. "
So what is troubling about the pattern that is emerging now?
"The Russian army entered without the support of the people. In the separatist areas there was Russian support, but not in the entry of tanks into Kiev, and that is a big difference compared to recent years. I did not think it would come to this. Entering a democratic country with tanks to overthrow the government is extreme on any scale and very surprising, but a country in economic decline is always kicking. It was the same in Germany."
Is this Russia's situation?
"Russia has reached an economic low point, the corona has dropped the price of oil way down, and what we are seeing right now is an undisputed ruler who has entered a democratic state to solve an economic problem for his country. Only here he does not necessarily enjoy the people's support. In any case, today I deal with predictions according to patterns only in the world of health."
As for your personal story, picturing four women in your family who immigrated to Israel together - you, your mother, your aunt and your grandmother - provides an image of a kind of "Amazon tribe" that works well without men, and to this day they still live together in Nesher.
"It never occurred to me that there was something women could not do. My mother is a software engineer who then changed careers and became a math teacher. My aunt graduated with a master's degree and started working at Intel. They are strong women who together with my grandmother did everything.
“I remember for example once my car slipped and the steering wheel flipped over. My mother walked, realized what was mechanically wrong in the car and managed to drive to the garage with the steering wheel upside down. My mother paints the house alone and also pastes the wallpaper. My grandma is now into computer games. I also come from a dynasty of women who do not cook. Grandma was the only one of us who still had to cook, and that's where it stopped."
It’s not surprising that you also made a career for yourself in karate.
"Mom said choose any class you want, just not pottery. I chose karate because I liked going barefoot and shouting, but over time it would have seemed to me like something I would be good at. And when I get into something, I want to specialize in it. That's how I got a 2nd Dan blackbelt. I was good in competitions. There were mixed gender fights in the club, men and women, and I learned that the moment when the opponent is not sure whether or not to hit girls - that’s just the perfect time to score a point."
And when a woman does not encounter obstacles?
"The first time they explained to me at a conference what the glass ceiling was - I could not understand what they were telling me. At the age of 15, in the computer class I studied in Nesher, there were only two boys in the class. Most of the class were girls who immigrated as children from the Soviet Union. In the environment of the immigrants I grew up in, I saw mostly women in math and sciences.
When did your dad leave the picture?
"My parents divorced before I was born, and I never knew him. He immigrated from Kiev only ten years ago with his new family."
And until then you did not meet him?
"Around the age of 18 we went on a “roots” trip and I went to Kiev to meet him for the first time. Suddenly I see in front of me an ultra-Orthodox man. It really surprised me. What’s the deal with him now being an ultra-Orthodox Jew in such a secular environment?"
And you made a connection?
"At 18 it's hard to suddenly develop a close relationship, when there is no common language built from a young age."
So you didn’t feel the need for him as a figure in your life?
"I had a natural curiosity about him, but not a 'hole' to fill. When we met I asked him why he did not make contact, and his answer was: 'Why did you not make contact with me?' It amazed me. He is my father, there was an age gap between us, I thought it was very childish of him to say that to me."
What answer did you expect?
"I would have preferred an honest answer like: 'I was ashamed, too much time had passed and I was already uncomfortable reaching out to you', or an answer like 'I started a family and it was not a good time because that's how life is'. These are reasonable answers to me. But shifting the blame to my side, when I was born and he was no longer around? What am I supposed to do with that now? I saw it as a lack of responsibility. The gap between us was so deep that apart from genetic closeness between us - I did not see how we could close the gap. And that closed my curiosity for good.”
Are you trying to make everything logical in your life? You have no such thing as a "gut feeling"?
"What is a gut feeling? A formalization of your previous experience. You have seen an event more than once, your mind learns to condense it and tell you: I saw A and B, it means that C will happen. It’s survival. When weeds move it means there is a predator behind them. It's a mechanism that works probabilistically and prepares us for the next step, gut feeling is basically process memory. You remember what a process looks like and you can anticipate the next part in it. Evolution is a good way to prepare yourself for a state of danger.
“In the modern Western world there is no predator in the weeds, but sometimes there is a 'feeling that the market will fall’. But this is not a 'feeling', this is a generalization from a previous experience, of which we are not fully aware. It is very evolutionary to learn from experience and draw conclusions based on a pattern you have often seen, a ‘gut feeling’ about similar events. But it does not come from the stomach but from neurons in the brain, which experience has made connections between them. There is no mysticism here, it is a shortcut that the body learns to do.”
Do you apply such calculated logic in family life as well, in relationships for example?
"With my husband I never quarreled. I have nothing to argue with him about. All the more ‘explosive’ things, like who picks up the kids or housekeeping issues, we ‘outsourced' because we knew it was contentious. So what's left to fight about? I like to manage our finances and he does not; I do not like to manage the renovation of our house, and he prefers to manage it; and we made a decision many years ago that in case of disagreement, it is better to go with what I want.
“You need to know what everyone's principles are and how to work with them. If you know yourself and know when you're emotional, you take yourself and take a time out and wait for it to pass so you do not regret the reaction."
Are you emotional sometimes?
"It's very difficult for me when I have to concentrate and I'm disturbed. I know I'm not patient. When you know your problems, you say 'I'm angry now and impatient, I better not react now because I will regret it."
And where do you get your passion for big data and machine learning?
"When I was little and they asked me what I would ask for if I got three wishes, I replied that I did not need three but only one: to know everything. Mostly to know what causes death to stop. What stops aging. It is a great ‘issue’, which needs to be reached in several stages.
“To know everything requires access to a lot of information, and the brain can not contain all this information. I realized that not everything has to be through what my biology allows me to remember. I always wanted to know everything, and use the ability to predict events wisely. And to do it in the health field for me is the Holy Grail.”
And you are ok with being known as a sort of "prophetess"?
"I do not connect with it. I define myself as a scientist. I do understand that people want to give the ability to predict a clear nickname. We also called our algorithm “Prophet". But I do not do anything mystical, rather I explain natural phenomena in a probabilistic and simplistic way. The world is full of clutter and most of the algorithms of artificial intelligence are based on trying to reduce it."