The HLF Portraits: Shwetak N. Patel

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The HLF Portraits: Shwetak N. Patel
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The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation presents the HLF Portraits: Shwetak N. Patel; ACM Prize in Computing, 2018 Recipients of the the Abel Prize, the ACM A.M. Turing Award, the ACM Prize in Computing, the Fields Medal and the Nevanlinna Prize in discussion with Marc Pachter, Director Emeritus National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, about their lives, their research, their careers and the circumstances that led to the awards. Video interviews produced for the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation by the Berlin photographer Peter Badge. The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation or any other person or associated institution involved in the making and distribution of the video. Background: The Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF) annually organizes the Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF), which is a networking event for mathematicians and computer scientists from all over the world. The HLFF was established and is funded by the German foundation the Klaus Tschira Stiftung (KTS), which promotes natural sciences, mathematics and computer science. The HLF is strongly supported by the award-granting institutions, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM: ACM A.M. Turing Award, ACM Prize in Computing), the International Mathematical Union (IMU: Fields Medal, Nevanlinna Prize), and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (DNVA: Abel Prize). The Scientific Partners of the HLFF are the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS) and Heidelberg University.
Inheritance (object-oriented programming) Civil engineering Multiplication sign 1 (number) Plastikkarte Bit Mereology Wave packet Mathematics Process (computing) Factory (trading post) Computer science Video game Right angle Musical ensemble Family Spacetime
Digital electronics Confidence interval State of matter Multiplication sign Direction (geometry) Source code 1 (number) Combinational logic Numbering scheme Mereology Computer programming Neuroinformatik Formal language Programmer (hardware) Mathematics Semiconductor memory Different (Kate Ryan album) Bus (computing) Office suite Physical system God Social class Decision tree learning Gradient Keyboard shortcut Bit Category of being Telecommunication Computer science Right angle Figurate number Video game console Resultant Point (geometry) Virtual machine Density of states Electronic program guide Control flow Online help Student's t-test Regular graph Rule of inference Frequency Goodness of fit Term (mathematics) Internetworking Robotics Energy level Software testing Dialect Inheritance (object-oriented programming) Forcing (mathematics) Physical law Projective plane System call Word Video game Codec Game theory Pressure Routing Family Library (computing)
State observer Randomization Building State of matter Code Length Multiplication sign Direction (geometry) View (database) Combinational logic Disk read-and-write head Mereology Computer programming Neuroinformatik Formal language Programmer (hardware) Mathematics Machine learning Strategy game Different (Kate Ryan album) Computer configuration Office suite Descriptive statistics Position operator Social class Area Gradient Feedback Sound effect Hecke operator Bit Surface of revolution Type theory Process (computing) Computer science Right angle Freeware Metric system Fundamental theorem of algebra Reading (process) Spacetime Point (geometry) Mobile app Momentum Variety (linguistics) Branch (computer science) Student's t-test Field (computer science) Number Hypothesis Element (mathematics) Frequency Goodness of fit Prototype Latent heat Internetworking Computer hardware Energy level Computing platform YouTube Address space Information Uniqueness quantification Cellular automaton Projective plane Expert system Planning Multilateration Theoretical computer science Frame problem Faculty (division) Word Software Integrated development environment Universe (mathematics) Table (information) Routing Family
Group action State of matter Multiplication sign Direction (geometry) Mereology Disk read-and-write head Food energy Neuroinformatik Different (Kate Ryan album) Single-precision floating-point format Diagram Office suite Information security God Physical system Area Curve Theory of relativity Feedback Gradient Fitness function Bit Dean number Category of being Arithmetic mean Process (computing) Computer science Self-organization Right angle Spacetime Point (geometry) Slide rule Vacuum Mobile app Service (economics) Open source Flash memory Electronic program guide Virtual machine Hidden Markov model Online help Repetition Student's t-test Heat transfer Field (computer science) Theory Element (mathematics) Wave packet Power (physics) Product (business) Centralizer and normalizer Prototype Term (mathematics) Computer hardware Energy level Data structure Router (computing) User interface Focus (optics) Scaling (geometry) Key (cryptography) Inheritance (object-oriented programming) Cellular automaton Projective plane Physical law Plastikkarte Planning Electric power transmission Faculty (division) Word Personal digital assistant Universe (mathematics) Video game Musical ensemble Wireless LAN
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[Music] okay I can't resist saying that I saw in one of the articles about you we were called a virtuoso so what I want to do is start way before you were virtuoso okay I want to start back in Alabama yeah tell me about your family tell me a little bit about parents where you were growing up and then will will build to the virtuoso ya know I grew up in Alabama which is so whenever whenever you played this icebreaker with people where it's like you know say two to two things that are true one's false and guess the false one I always say oh I grew up in Alabama and that's the one that everybody it always gets everybody because it's knowing there's no way you don't have a southern accent you don't seem like a typical Alabamian and so but I grew up in Alabama so my parents immigrated to the US over 30 years ago before I was born Rome from India yeah but where in India in Gujarat on the western part of India that's where Mahatma Gandhi actually grew up and another virtuoso yeah and so he grew up so so that's where I picked my parents immigrated to the US they were actually professionalism chemical engineering and microbiology small chemical my mom might grow and but they couldn't practice in the 70s you can practice you came to the u.s. you kind of had to figure out what you wanted to do because you didn't you couldn't do the trade that you were because you didn't have the formal credentials that would be recognized exactly formal credentials you didn't know really how to get the in like how you get a job in that space and so so so they came they actually worked in a carpet factory they had very little but but they finally settled in Alabama because one of the things at the time was the motel business the motel industry was the thing that Indians were starting to kind of take over this and so they bought a little motel and Clanton Alabama which is actually near Selma which was the height part of the civil rights movement yes I was actually actually born in a hospital in Selma and so we when I was about two years old we moved to Birmingham Alabama and that's where I grew up so that's when they bought a bigger a little bit bigger Motel right and I grew up like I'm a computer scientist but I actually grew up on a motel like district hotel stuff so like are we never had a normal house like our house was the apartment that was connected behind the lobby of the motel so my chores or you have to vacuum 50 rooms you have to make the beds of 50 rooms I think I think the math one day I think in my life I've done 10,000 beds or something like that like and so they might make my friends would complain about oh yeah I got to get the trash I'll do my chores like tours I help clean with my brother and sister all these rooms that's my chore right and so and so that's why I grew up in it was in two wheels like this is normal you know you have the business in front of you right here and then there's our little apartment but we yeah we lived at the business and so I could see how hard my parents would work great I saw the hardship right and Indian families or they do everything for the kids right you know everything we're doing they're not gonna buy that they don't buy anything for them we got the fancy shoes and the shirts because it's all for the kids right they can ice up and say would they accepting of their situation because of the kids were they disappointed I mean these are not professionals there's no disappointment they were just looking the reason why they move to the US is for an opportunity right their parents were like hey go to the US this is gonna be the opportunity for you and you know their grandkids right yeah so my dad's a pretty big family one of nine my mom's five all slow like one you know one would come get a green card and you know the next one cup so it's kind of a sponsored each one got it now they're all in the u.s. I have over 50 cousins know the whole family yeah they're all of the u.s. oh he has a I always joke about anywhere I go in the u.s. have a couch right because we have cousins all over the place yes yeah but my dad's ones come in the middle and my mom was on the older oh yeah so I'm projecting that may not be right because I don't have the same kind of personal history but are there books in their lives I mean they can't practice anymore is is there technology interesting them is there anything from there no no no it's not that it's the chosen life it's the drive yes the drive exactly and I mean you have fascinating stories about how they even found like at that time you couldn't just Google for Oh businesses we can buy those no it's whoever came first had enough experience like hey this motel thing I can learn so we already pass it down so we somebody else when we did would come they'd work with the motel for us help train them up how then help them buy theirs right yeah just pass it along right right and um and we have no clue Lee and no clue how to run a business like that yes but on-the-job training it's just literally the American dream it's literally living the American dream they came in they looked for an opportunity and they just make me how many kids in the family just you and your sister yes I have a younger brother and your sisters I'm the oldest you're the oldest yeah okay so it may be a legend or and maybe a dead accurate if they're doing
all this for you how much pressure are you getting in terms of schooling how much are they expecting at least from you yeah a certain kind of result in terms of yeah they are really hands-on I mean you have you have Indian families that are very much about schooling here's what you're gonna do you're gonna help with the family business and do well you want us to do well but I never thought we were pressured oh they were like we're gonna support you we're gonna make it easy for you to go through the schooling like like you know none of all of us forget free my sister went to med school without any debt I went to grad school I got a PhD in computer science my mother got a PhD in chemical engineering he's a professor in Chicago I'm a professor at University of Washington my sisters ob/gyn so we all became doctors in some way PhDs are doctors yes and what else could they hope for right but they made it easy they made sure that we did not have hardship when in terms of getting there right so dad didn't and they saved up to make sure that was gonna happen but we also learned hard work because through the motel the motel the thing that is what made me a hard worker not because of school or so this innate thing that oh I got to get the best grade in the world well it's like I it's like this is the thing that translated to me being a hard worker which was kind of fascinated inhabit that's Wow yeah that's reflecting back like at the time I didn't realize this is because it was it was happening but but that was the thing that was so are there books somewhere in those motel rooms are there I mean yeah I'm looking for an intellectual source but I have a memory there I have one for you okay yeah so but um yeah so I would say we have a fatso so in the motel so there's a couple things so in the motel I had to be locked hands-on so I would help fix stuff electrical breaks right really I was hands-on - I fixed like I know I mean I know how to do weird stuff like fixing a vending machine or an ice maker right like I know how to do stuff and so he fast forward like maybe 10 20 years like my research is electrical and plumbing that's because I could actually do that do stuff but anyway let's start from the beginning um but yeah it's always very hands-on so I would build stuff so in the motel we'd have a giant laundry room thing where all the linen would be done and behind it like parents would let me build a work would chop so that's where I would do work working and I just build stuff I would always be building stuff like my parents gave me a hammer guess when I was like do we were for not a play hammer for a real hammer and I still have a scar my finger prove it and so so just let me be creative and so that was one thing I was just always tinkering and I think is it because yeah I was always tinkering but that the the technical intellectual thing was it happened when it was fascinating so so in the motel so my parents kind of knew that technology was gonna be a thing but they didn't really know how they were not technologies than you know your nothing about computer science or anything like that but they knew that you know maybe he might be interest in technology maybe we got to get him to at least do some technical stuff okay and I was pretty young I mean what was it third grade maybe fourth grade and so even the them coming to the realization that technology's a thing was already fascinating yeah I don't know how that happened they have technical friends or anything like that but so so there was a person that was living in a motel who kind of living there for an extended period or four years like me he was probably in there living in them in the motel in one of the rooms for a couple years just just is it buying an apartment or renting apartment just lived in the motel but he was actually computer guy so he he went to he had an emergency and so he gets sick and he went to the doctor's office that evening whatever came back and it was and then but presumably passed away in the hospital that's what we assumed when if you ever found out what actually happened to him but he just taught my dad hey I'm not feeling well I'm gonna go to the doctor and just let me know his oh yeah but never came back and we assumed he passed away we were like we just kept the room there because oh maybe that loved ones to come kind of get there maybe yeah nobody ever came like the I mean for a week two weeks three months I think my parents just kept the room intact um but then were like oh my god I get the room clean we got I don't have to we gotta rent this room now even his car was there like but but he left all the stuff there so but he must have had a heart attack we don't know what happened but he had a computer he had a computer he was always using in the room and my dad always talked to him a little bit about Oh what's this computer thing I want my kid into it and so and so yeah we did this stuff is you know probably the law is that you know if nobody claims and you can just take it right we could like donate it or whatever but we kept the computer kept a little car too but I think obviously just give the car to somebody else but that was my first computer but it was kind of a bit advanced I think why I couldn't quite figure it out so we had somebody that did the PBX systems in the motel so the PBX systems are basically the switchboard so I actually have a weird talent and I know how to program switchboards in hotels but he's very weird yeah this is very weird Oh but so that guy had a computer he say hey I'll take that off your hands I'll give you this other one just easier for the kid to use and so my dad didn't know any better and he made the exchange the whole how old is the kid at this point I am third grade so I see third or fourth grade was it um someone probably like seven eight seven eight okay okay yeah shut it yeah and then so we'll make a trade and later on we realized it was a bad trade he gave us a really crappy computer and you got a really nice one out of it oh yeah but it didn't matter it was a texas instrument i ninety nine a computer it was a keyboard computer we connect our TV to it I don't have a programmer I wrote a racing game on it I just taught myself how to code on this thing huh like it's like that's literally what happened at third fourth grade yeah like I was learning how to write programs by myself um so I had there's a little manual that I used but but that was the thing and then my parents like oh he did that and then we got out like an actual computer I got a more advanced computer and c'est la vie right and then that's me like I third fourth grade cuz when I do what I do but I wasn't always in the computer so if my parents had to predict what I do they'd be like Oh he'd be electrical engineer because I was also building a lot of these kinds of things electronics okay and so they take me to RadioShack whenever I wanted to RadioShack was actually one of these and not just a cell phone any selling you cellphones and so so yeah so I so think someone would say oh he's gonna be electric wheelchair some would say my aunts and uncles how you give me a doctor someone would say a mechanical engineer given all the tinkering I do I'd belt learners and bill carts I was into go-karts actually you gotta fix go-karts um and they're like anybody would ask they would say something different and so that was fascinating yes in fact you could have done any of those roads I could have I could have I mean they were they were not out of the ballpark not just they didn't know which route you were gonna town no but they weren't pushing me anymore they're not they're like yeah we're like any other you know there's some families that you're gonna be the doctor yeah the lawyer any families they're like do what makes me happy are you are you by the way a kind of lonely kid are you doing this by yourself are you finding any other yeah jury jury on it so here in Alabama they don't know I mean not so in Alabama what'd you do I did what most Alabama kids do like hey dirt bikes and go karts my parents gave me a dirt bike you know that's a fascinating story that I'll talk to you about a second how I convinced my parents to give me a dirt bike most parents will not do such things but but yeah so I did the Alabama thing like you know yeah but now let the kids did this I got internet really early and my parents had no clue like how'd it get Internet like I figured it out I went to the phone book made the phone calls like I figured it all out right yeah but ya
know I kinda did it myself and my brothers just were younger but then they kind of got into helping a little bit but I was older than them I mean so four years older than my brother and what seven eight years my sister so I was older than them and you were indenting yourself I was inventing myself and little did I know isn't doing the future yeah um yeah and so yeah okay so how do I get you into school when do I find a mentor for you yeah so it was interest you know along the way I mean hello valence goals aren't that great and so it was funny because in I think first and second grade they put me in all these remedial classes because they thought I had a learning disability um part of it what so I saw my my so my parents knew so I live with my grandparents and so in at home we spoke Gujarati which was a native dialect and so that's so I'm bilingual yeah but illiterate so I can't read it and write it but I can speak it really well and so but then I didn't learn English until school started but I mean that didn't meet behind there's a lot of research that shows that you can have bilingual kids they're not gonna have a language deficiency yeah but I think it was I was just so I just had a different way of thinking about the world so they thought he didn't know how to do math he doesn't do that so they put me needs with me do classes but then like I actually end up in high school which was a gifted high school so it's actually the other way around instead of remedial it was out you may need it accelerate yeah so um oh yeah but but yeah so it's kind of yeah school was easy it was just kind of going through but but but I think the education so I believe early just taught myself I mean I would say it's fit you got fourth grade you got fifth grade sixth grade good teachers and we starting to get some good a great some great math teacher so I'm starting to get some inspiration there sixth grade I mean I'm like full force compute like I knew everything about computers like I mean I yeah everything like that was also that timeline like the school system was asking me to help figure out how to fix their computers programmed the kilometers like I mean you got the sixth grader doing this it's just I mean ok now you didn't invent all computer science so you must have gone to the library picked up some books I mean what gosh how do you know yeah so yeah I mean it's a little bit of library um but at that time there were not any there weren't good articles on this though right so I had a piece of together so yes libraries I had the Internet but was it fifth fourth fifth grade so I could actually do some stuff there I think really it was a combination of that Internet and then also the manuals to these computers were ok yes I was but literally if this is fascinating but being at a console and just like kind of working through it to figure out what to do is how I actually learned it it's very you had a DOS prompt MS DOS prompt and you see that little you know great the less than the greater than sign right you got the C colon backslash that's where I started right and I just started you know reading a little bit getting one place and then trying to I think I started to get capture kind of what the essence of what this is and then I think I think I got I understood what it meant to like write programs and like to go in there and do something beyond what you would just do or the regular pieces so who's noticing this killer yes my parents are totally no you're certain they're noticing they're giving you what you already are telling yourself you want yeah and so I think at that point they realize whatever you wants will give them because they also have this interesting insight to like whenever they got me something they would give me to of some things they're like play with it do whatever you want with this one thing here's the same thing I get you to of it I want you to break it open and learn how it works well yeah so they would do that look for me sometimes too so it's like let's get two of them just play with this and that's the pristine fun play one thing here's the one if it's not broken open then I haven't done my thing so how do we get you from remedial to advanced so I think that's one seventh eighth and ninth grade comm seminary so that's when we had we had a technology class of all things a technology class it's called tech ed technology education that one is quite fast and it takes maybe two or three weeks in I actually knew more than the teacher which is fine because he was very inspirational he was trying his best to create a technology education course in Alabama in seventh grade so you were too good to be true as a student but I would work with him to create curricula anyway and so that's what I'm like ho that's why I get exposed a little bit more technology we had some more gadgets and gizmos I didn't realize existed so that's when I was like hitting my stride that's when I really knew I think that's the confidence started to build around this time okay and the reason for this was in a they had these technology education competition this was called a technology Student Association ran these so these were technology competitions so you would actually enter these competitions and you could like build a robot and they get judged you might take a test so there's a bunch of different things you could enter and then he wanted to really send some students there I've never really tried it but we when he started working with me he's like let's try this ts a competition so you basically get like maybe six months to build all these things and I entered every category you could possibly can so I think each student can do three categories I think I did robotics technology so you had to build a piece you had to build a robot you had to build a really cool gadget a circuit gadget and then I forget what the third one was but so I did in my first year I didn't really know what to expect I flopped I actually did well at all like I got there I got disqualified because I didn't follow the rules and it follow the rules because when you have a manual and so even the teacher was learning at that time I'm like next you I'm gonna own it and so we got the manuals we did it the right way and in fact I'm not only three can only interest three of these competitions so I came up with a scheme which was hey I can teach these other kids in the class to enter in some other ones I'll just do the project for them but they could just represent it so I entered nine so I had two other kids that are like hey I'm gonna do these other category you want to do anything I'll just build it teach you how to explain it and so this is where the dirt bike comes in so my parents were kind of weird in this they loved trophies and awards that won a lot of awards because in school at the end you know the top grade in math and all that's like you know then for something they love trophies I don't know why but I think probably it was just the culmination and that you got something right you succeeded or exceeded something and then hey make this weird bet with me which is like if you win four trophies at TSA we'll get your dirt bike they knew I couldn't obtain it because I can only get three trophies but I entered nine right came home with four trophies I got a dirt bike right uh-huh so you're your father was as good as his word yeah I mean yeah yeah like he knew that I can only get three is you can only three but little did you know that I find up six other students under enter the other categories but yeah I mean I just blew I mean uh so my life always kind of joke somebody I got these trophies in our office at home she's like why do you have your high school of trophies he's like those boy shows your high school trophies I'm like those are the ones that like that's what that's the thing that gave me the confidence yeah and so I still have those trophies in my house where we move on from him I think we need the the guides name the the technology teacher who who sent you in this direction yeah and it's just all worth mrs. dollar okay well yeah he's been acknowledged okay so now we got to get you out of high school all right and some of these junior high yeah this is junior high just you know - we're in junior I'm a junior high okay and this is not the this is no this is a special it's not special yeah and then my parents didn't know really how to navigate the school systems they need so I actually did the investigation myself I'm like I need him I just want to I liked maxing out here now so I actually found out in the state of Alabama and if we were to Jefferson County there was a high school called Jefferson County in Alaska baccalaureate school it's a public high school that's a feeder school for all the other junior High's and and basically have to be gifted you got to take a test be gifted a certain level and then you get to go and then al the county did a cool thing where they bussed all the kids there too so if you couldn't drive there if the kid or if your parents can take you there they get you there it was I lived on the other side of town so my bus ride was like funny but anyway I found out I knew you had to get the testing I'm like Toni parents here's what we're doing this testing and then this testing get this done and I got in and they're like okay ha ha ha and they were ecstatic they're like oh that's a cool experience so this this was a great school so um little bit of an oxymoron and having the
best school in the u.s. in Alabama but but they routinely the school was ranked number one in the country really for as public high school because we would take the best of the best in there right so so being valedictorian of the best high school country is kind of cool yeah but yeah but a best pop-up right public public school not private school like yeah I mean and we offered almost all the AP classes they had the International Baccalaureate program so these are these find out now you talk about like I'm this is these are all my friends that are like now can speak my language and took the tech there are a lot of folks that are in the technology that were into art and literature and the facilities were I mean everything you know everything I needed and there we had mr. Hollis who's my computer science teacher all right and so he pushed me really hard I did a lot more technology innovation things at the high school level I did really well in school you know about Detroit all that kind of stuff and but yeah that really pushed me hard and that was a hard school I did really well and so yeah that was kind of like I got lucky and got put in an environment that let me flourish right very lucky um yeah very lucky but but you also have the talent to make it work so the combination of yes I'm in high school I graduate go to Georgia Tech for undergrad okay so now you're gonna let me ask you why Georgia Tech why how did you plan the next step yeah so I was you're a planner yeah I'm a planner I kinda had a battle plan um so in high school I did research so I went to the local university to do research and that was a dictator high school high in high school every Wednesday you didn't go take classes you actually went to go do research at a lab or university kind of a progressive right and so that's when I started doing research I did research with some computer science faculty at the University of Alabama at Birmingham so at that point I already kind of knew I mean this is the fascinating thing people are like how'd you become what you are yeah I'm gonna get a PhD in computer science and probably do research and I'm gonna invent the future I was already knowing I knew my battle plan in high school which is rare and so I said you know one of the great schools you got MIT got Georgia Tech and you know you know the West Coast I want to be close to home but not being too far so Atlanta's about two and a half hour drive from Birmingham so Georgia Tech's a great school and not too close to home not too far and you could still do the beds actually a certain point in high school I no longer do the beds they do how rigorous my high school right and so my brother and sister went to the same high school so so Georgia Tech Georgia Tech hit the ground running there what because yeah I know you as a kid now pretty well okay and so I'm thinking you're you know what Georgia Tech is gonna be particularly strong in yeah what was what was the the strength of Georgia Tech at that time period it's like computer science engineers the best engineering school in the country like think about Georgia Institute of Technology right okay good yeah any particular branch of computer sciences it's young enough that's why I'm young enough that I I i was still malleable in that space okay I was just dabbling in everything in computing in fact she thought was gonna double major in computer science and electrical engineering because I was still doing this stuff right and so I knew the hardware side and the software side pretty well I know the interesting is I actually doing research early because remember I got research experience in high school right and so I sought out research faculty to do research with like freshman year so not only was I taking classes I already started working with professors to do research hey can I help out in research and that's kind of where my career really just like where I am now is because of my undergraduate research experience so so there's a faculty member Gregory a bell who actually ended up Mike being my thesis adviser to eventually got me into this research area called you because computing comes in some what the heck is that but it sounds cool and really the lore actually was it was on Monday night like seven o'clock and there's free food that's learned me yeah yeah but this new Vickers computing thing sounded cool and like gadgets and so we had this thing called the aware home so we're the tech was inventing the home of the future so they had funding for the state of Georgia to build this home and you can make it smart and do research in it and so he gave me pretty much full rein of this go do what you want in this house I felt all these gadgets and gizmos hey remember I could do electrical so I was sneaking at night to like we do the electrical because it was Union code stuff and you couldn't get like I had to do it like oh how did that get fixed well I don't know but like that was my playground to do research yeah at the same time I'm doing computer science class so at this point what do the years now we're in when you're at Georgia Tech yeah so this is like you know so I graduated high school in 2000 so 2000 2001 2002 okay and remembering yeah the reason I ask is because I wanted if I can get it a kind of capsule description or the computer field at that point what do we know what don't we know yeah that's right so at this point you know fundamental computer science is kind of being an infinitive it's still a nascent field right you still have you know theoretical computer science you still have networking mobile is starting to become a thing you know we didn't have these kinds of things right there yet but so it's really early I mean I'm at the sweet spot right it's like you just computer science moving into mobile and I'm like right in the middle of there's a revolution and so and so this is what I'm already thinking about this I did you want the first okay I could say that a first computer science grad students at Georgia Tech to know how to program the mobile phone this is when we had the flip phones we had the Nokia phone like I was like known as the phone programmer because I taught classes even though I was a grad student so yeah I was early kind of in this mobile like sensor area and because of the home the home was the platforms that go we're gonna make a smart home they could Kate take care of people inside of it maybe for elderly for the for home health care for sustainability like it was just like you've said the magic word sensor yeah describe that what what what's involved in that so the sensor thing is like you know right now if you think about information it's like the thing that's on my curates right you go to the Internet somebody rated something or wrote written something that's your information but there's also more information in the world which is the thing that could be observed so if you build a sensor that can get a light reading or a temperature reading now we have another observation of the world that's digital you can do something unique with so now think what can I detect in the environment okay I could do something with I could detect that some of my fists fall in so I can do something there I could detect that somebody's getting fatigued so maybe I might want to intervene so I started to get this effect you know like there's no Deena right there right now and so how do we build sensors to get more data about the world either on the body or in the home so that's coming that started to dabble in the censorship know where in the world Yoga is the best work being done at this point in sensor yeah I mean George technically was an area it was important they're people recognizing yeah but because I'm a Reckitt into research early and so I I started publishing as an undergrad so I actually you know got to conferences early so I started to get exposed to researchers in this area at worldwide and sorry so I knew the communities and kind of the different areas I should get to know faculty but yeah I uh I happen to be in a place and it just like I think Anton resolved in my head is if if Gregory didn't pull me into the space or like encouraged me to go to space if I went with another faculty member would I have done this oh I don't know I actually don't know let's say I would have gravitated networking would I become like a networking writer it's a fair question it's a fair question you will never know that I don't think I would though I think that's it eventually maybe later on in grad school I would go to go to try because I think of what I do like look at my table yeah I have all this stuff like I literally build all kinds of random stuff so I needed to be an environment in a computing field which is broad like I had to be in an area where I could do the electrical engineering the computer science what do you hold canticle so this is a 3d printed trachea for some of our health research projects life-size it's not mine but somebody else's amirite a patient we printed a trachea okay yeah that's roughly life-size so you were probably fortunately on the route you might have been any likely going to it I mean I think about like why did I go to that seminar is because when I read the description oh that's me said probably it was gonna happen now do you need to do an undergraduate
thesis or is that Lucknow so I don't know I did undergraduate research but you could do a thesis optional class option so I was only an undergrad for two and a half years office I had a ton of high school AP and IP credit right at it like I said I had a battle plan I was gonna do research so I'm done with I'm gonna grant two and a half years okay I'm already in the ph.d program so I applied but I stayed at Georgia Tech because I didn't feel like I was there that long so because if you're there doing it for four years it's like okay I wouldn't need a change but it doesn't feel like I was there that long I had research momentum so I stayed with my adviser to do my PhD at Georgia Tech and that was the fear of the unknown that was just momentum and then I looked at other places and this was still the best place for me okay so I I get you to a thesis certainly for PhD yeah how do you choose the thesis what is the direction this is the fascinating part so you know most times so so and this is how I teach my students is that you know here what's your research so you do a little bit of research in the first year you do your qualifying as a mini and then you kind of know what your thesis is I didn't know what my thesis was until my fourth year and this is what I think Gregor did really well Gregor he's like it's Kaizen it's all over the place but that's not try to focus and let him do it all so I had probably I mean I published it so many different no I mean I would say different areas but different types of projects I mean I had the breadth of the types of stuff I did was just like it's just he's did hardware it software he could do machine learning he could do health related stuff sustained a bit like whoa and I didn't Gregory realize that you know you don't want to rein him in there's no reigning this is how he operates this is his research he's able to bring together lots of different disciplines and do unique things in computing right it's like she's not just narrowly focused on one or any variety he's broadening computing and so and you were lucky again and yeah he let me do this and this I mean at the time one would be criticized you're not a computer scientist you don't have a focused area you're never gonna get a faculty position because you're not an expert in one thing right but for him it was like now do your thing right and then I finally do have to do a thesis and I had so many publications I said you know this is my thing it's the sensor's area so I did thesis on censors and it turned out this this censored like so basically using the signals that are already around us or sensing which is kind of my mantra right ended up becoming filled that a lot of stuff got built up I mean my I got I was fortunate to get the MacArthur Fellowship that's because of my pieces work a little did anybody know that this person this is all over the place that didn't think was a computer scientist got a MacArthur award right but it was on in this area because it and I think what Gregory did was he because he allowed me to dabble he let me I allowed me to stumble across an area that nobody else would have stumbled across if you took that and of course that's one of the key elements of a free research environment where it's not a specific goal it's letting the Enquirer inquire yeah exactly you benefited from this I totally I don't you know what I want to now talk about is we need your career together yeah is the moral environment in which by a moral environment I simply mean you're not just interested in the technology of things you're interested in goals that it might address yes Oh totally when does that start that was that I was an undergrad and that was undergrad when it's like hey you know because I'm taking the classes too right and it's like um you know I'm not really interested in making that process or one percent faster or that networking algorithm better where I'm you know a few mowing more packets are going through I'm hands-on I want to see the direct impact of the work I'm doing right not the indirect and direct impact okay and the other thing is like and I have this powerful tool which is computing and how can i address society with this powerful tool and so I that's and remember when I was talking when I could have been a doctor and like in turn that's when I started to think about hey computer science could have a bigger impact than just me being a doctor right and I started to get learned that in undergrad and grad school and that's when I was like no no like the debate the the basic science research where you're just getting an incremental improvement or something that's already maybe publishes not me it's really moving really moving the needle new sensing approaches taking this whole field of computing adding some more stuff to it and having an impact on society be it healthcare sustainability is where I wanted to be so right yeah the the the health frame which was gotten more and more important in your work yeah was there health issues around you was it just an objective reading what society hey didn't a lot yeah I was lucky in it we didn't have any major health issues in my family yeah it was just I mean if you think about the societal problems you've got sustainability and you've got health care it's and it's just it's it's just it's an around me enough okay yeah yeah but look I've been fortunate there wasn't a big healthcare trigger it was just more that comes no realization the Health Care's broken and we gotta fix it okay so I'm beginning to get a sense of your intellectual ambitions for your field yeah what are your personal ambitions how do you now get with a PhD to the next stage yeah I had some wacky goals like I mean so my metrics were success we're not necessarily publishing a bunch of papers which actually could be counterintuitive when you're trying to go for tenure you gotta get a bunch of papers but but I knew in kind of kind of do that and you I could do it actually it's like alright that's fine but I had some like weird goals this was a grad school it's like can I do something where it impacts the lives of a million people and I don't care what it is okay okay if it's a youtube video that gets a million views huh it's a paper that gets a million citations which actually be weird but that's a lot of citations if I build something that a million people use my metric was a million people at some point in my career I want to get to a meal and actually I'd probably actually hit that at this point because I've been I've done startups technology where okay so we've hit a million people in some way but now my goal is like a hundred million sci-fi and they're not billion so we'll talk about that later um but yeah I just had this metric it's like I know where million came in but that was like metric it's like if I'm not doing something that's gonna get to my goal of app acting in some way yes when I say impacting doesn't have to be a positive or negative impact in this cell it's more than what I did has been some a million people have observed it and made them think about something differently it's like uh or cool or who that that's what I want so it this idea or this strategy registered with the million people yeah either they used it tangibly yeah or they saw it whatever okay so you've got a PhD how are you gonna do that yeah so so I got PhD and then I'm thinking what do I do with this piece day what are you doing uh and and so at this point I'm like how do you what do you do with my like so I'm a tinkerer I'm an inventor and building stuff I can write P first and like what feel like what career path even a can absorb somebody like me so I think that's alright this is what I'm working with my advisor and just thinking through their like being a professor could actually be my playground so I looked at being a professor differently than a lot of other faculty at the time so I looked at being a professor as a playground to do all my regisnet chin right wears a lot of students came in and saying I want to be an academic coming I want to write my scholarly work I'll do that that comes with the territory I like teaching and the scholarly work but I came in out with different I'm like I want to use this as a playground to have the computer science impact right and so when I got I actually in okay I had a lot of interviews and I got lucky and pretty much got to offer to all the places and but but I presented myself as that and present myself as being like the prototypical computer science faculty member um and it was fascinating so so my wife I met my wife at Georgia Tech who actually graduated the same lab by the way computer scientist so we both got a faculty positions at a couple different places and eventually reached Ocean University of Washington because you could both get position well we could get both misses other places the field wide here is um great faculty great place to live to have a family eventually the tech industry and the receptiveness of this department on the wackiness that is of me uh-huh so there was no hiding this you were wacky and you were the first to admit it yeah and so you were looking for somebody who got a yeah but a lot of faculty I think a lot of departments didn't understand there's something here but we don't know what quite is so that's why I had offers it other places right but it wasn't even you do i when we were getting some feedback kind of
like like back-channel feedback saying that oh he's too entrepreneurial like here he because at the time I had already started a company too and as a grad student to commercialize some of the work that that was the feedback he's too entrepreneurial so this was a point in the transition in the life of a computer person yeah where entrepreneurialism was still a kind of dodgy yeah element yeah little bit and maybe not because if it was it was like it's not the scholarly thing to do right that was partly why it's right you're a scholar it's not the research scholarly thing so it was kind of I but you but so I got that feedback he's taught her oh and also remember I do a lot of things oh he's easy gonna be able to focus is he gonna have a research agenda that can students can quote always good reasons for being suspicious of an innovator yes okay yeah but that being said we've got to roll back to the creation of your first company yeah which you say it happened in graduate school so you had done that already what tell me about that yeah so this is kind of interesting so I did a bunch of research and monitoring energy usage and really I was doing it for applying it towards eldercare so making it easy to deploy sensors to monitor activities of daily living and stuff like that I'm not really the salient sustainability but thought a little bit about it I got a lot of I got the I got a best paper award out of it it was the first time this conference ever offered the best paper award and I was the first one to get it so that was so I got the inaugural award so there's a lot of publicity that came out of that and so a lot of these kind of entrepreneurs reach down into like oh you know this could be an interesting use case and I was thinking about the same use case and so yeah so I'm like okay I'm gonna try this because of how do you start a company I mean we don't a lot of resources but Georgia Tech had this contact transfer office so and I started to work with them and they try to help me go down this path so I was lucky enough that Georgia Tech had enough of a tech transfer office to start to dabble and just like how I learn how to program and learn how to becoming entrepreneur I never went to business goal never right it's just on the job training does the University in that case or did it share your profits how what was the profit structure always evolving at the time it's more of a rep it's like a licensing revenue so you can license the technology from the university into a company and then there's revenue that kicks back and stuff and so yes the company even to this day they get the university gets Georgia Tech at this time from that technology has licensing revenue coming back from so I know use well you do it again but this one you sell the company at some point is that before you even get out of graduate school no no no I'm so this is this is one of the things that they were probably concerned about they're like well he has a company and he's like okay so I saw the company in 2010 so I was already a professor here in 2008 2008 okay so so yeah so the University of Washington knew what they were getting they knew that you had a company as well as were were interested in research and and I was working in an area that was at the time it's a keys fairly apply which is kind of cool but we don't know how to think about so my department so we had this thing we had you know you have a slide deck for the department right and it's like oh here's what we who we are and there's this picture I still remember is like it was like a flower with pictures like here's or computer science and here are the areas of computer science networking theory and systems right it didn't have any of the applied stuff like health and stuff but a year later or two years later then you started to see like sustainability healthcare and I knew that the apartment was internalizing this and then you see all these other departments doing the same thing so I call this the flower diagram that now as a pleat the petals of the flower now things like health and sustainability are now part of computer science which when I started wasn't even in the diagram whoa right so I think they knew that this was gonna happen but they didn't really know how to hey what's gonna happen but if we take on a professor that understands it maybe don't move us in that head of the curve you know let's pause a second to talk about your wife um what is her work is she entrepreneurial too how temperamental II as computer science yeah are you the same yeah so she's a computer scientist yes I wouldn't want rocky were in the same field I'm more on the technology hardware sound sir says she's more on the human side in the sense that she looks at user interface technology she looks at a lot of the formative work so why would you build this if you built this what is the impact okay um so she's on the so she's at University Washington also hosts human centered design and engineering which is also an engineering field that takes in a lot of computing concepts but you're an impact guide to I mean yeah yeah yes often while you're taking on tasks because you're interested in the impact exactly she has yes she's interesting impact and she and she's not necessarily role in the sense that she wants to take her to innovations that have impact with it but she it's not the traditional approaches I mean she's trying to in entrepreneurship stuff but for her it's really more the scientific contributions that having the impact she's she'll do it non-for-profit or open source on her job that she wants a broadly impact it without the I actually get a kick out of the Entrepreneurship that yes we can talk about it like the whole like under constrained deadlines and constrained resources kind of actually kind of interesting and fun sometimes so the fellow who has become scholar and entrepreneur is landed in the university that gets him yep and tell me about develop your career the University tell me what then happens cuz yeah I got the right signals so when I mean I knew that there were they're taking a risk on me but but our department chairs and our Dean actually sent the right signals they would use the words like hey you know the work you do a little bit different but the way we define you know how faculty succeed or for tenure is not the normal way it look normal is like the teaching service really obviously research but our Dean and our chair at the time was said you know I have this fourth metric which is called impact and you could define it like ah interesting so that's that's and and at the time it's like impact was the other three you had impact on we research impact on service and impact on your teaching on students but fourth was a separate category you defined impact I'm like interesting and so yeah so that's why I knew that we could ignore they could have called it the million person it could be category but I can define it I think so so you progress rather quickly in terms of academic structure yeah you come in at what level what are you I mean I come in an assistant professors this is normal and I got yeah I got promoted to associate which means you get tenure right two years early it's a little early a little early early so almost all of my colleagues get like the go up for tenure year early at least good they're all the week everybody's Taylor did that comes in yes I a little bit more than a little bit almost two years early but anyway and then then full professor just shortly after that great let me make a couple yours if not well this gives you security god knows to proceed intellectually an entrepreneur yet in an entrepreneurial way yeah what are your next goals in terms of impact yeah yeah I mean the entrepreneurial so I mean so the goals have really been around how do we a couple things one is you know the commercialization the Entrepreneurship is just a vehicle me to get this stuff out there because we've got really good at writing papers I mean like a lot of best papers and all this kind of stuff and I'm like got the best papers great I kept this like a lot of these back here all those are the best paper or is it all right but I mean Stu it's great for the students but but that doesn't mean it's gonna have the impact it just means that somebody's said oh that's a great paper so I was always passionate to take what we have and push it forward and you can't you can't you can't just throw it over the fence so sometimes you have to you know work in industry to help them push it along you gotta spin on a company you didn't do something to really nudge it pass like past the kind of the the journal right and so and so I was trying creative ways to how we do that right so startups was one working with industry you know um going on part-time leave still kind of supporting the university and everything go to industry help them do something with my knowledge and what I've learned move them in a new direction so that's when I started to dabble in industry and universities and commercialization and then the universe is like whoa what is he doing he's got
like 20 hats on it's all works this is what you need to do to have him was this articulated as a question to you not know didn't you I had a plan oh yeah what give me some yeah disadvantages no let me put it another way you might even as the kind of person you you are you seem to be might even have made industry your total work or were you always interested in the playground playground so like I said the professor ship as a playground to do my creative work right so I can you know as a professor of me I can pretty much my research agenda is whatever I write it and then it really at another day it's also the students right if I can get talented creative excited kind students I gave the ACM prize in computing with a reception talk and one of other things I said the student I would always take over anything else for the kind student but technical stuff I can teach kindness is most important to me so I'd like to find a constantly it's just like you know it's the one that's not the competitive one it's not the one it's like the kind that you gotta be like kindness is for me is the highest priority for me because because that those are the students you can have a collegial relationship with you can get them to think creatively broadly but anyway so so the right students can help nudge me in the right directions too so it's a so I had a research agenda but what having my path to my research career with my students helping him guide and empowering them but but yeah so is so so so but I can steal my playground right so I can go to industry do this thing and I can come back and do it because I do things in the or in the increment of maybe two three four years things I left three or four years I get bored and do the next thing alright so if I'm an industry there's no way I could be an industry unless I have an incredible amount of intellectual freedom right because I'm gonna do the next big thing I'm not gonna just work on this thing because at some point I can hand it off to society and they can push it forward right and so in academia that playground is really important so yeah so I industry wouldn't I've been a great fit for me right now the get-go but now I mean I have industry relation I can really did I do a lot of things with industry right well let's get to your second company okay and what led to it and what was its focus yeah yeah so our first company we sold which was all in the smart home space which had she had a pretty nice impact in the that that in vacuum invented a whole field which was great and the next one was you know low power sensor coming in fact I still have the original prototype that the student built so this became this product which is a sensor in the home and then yeah it was like hey let's get this out there I worked with that colleague so a sensor in the hole yeah low-power wireless sensor is so low power that you never have to replace the battery this little coin cell battery will last 25 years unlike the microphone that just went out that battery that this the sensor would last for about 25 years because it's so low power the sensor that we built a solar power so one of the things as I've read about you and I think it's a parent and what you're saying too is the impact is going to be also a cost issue I mean you're yeah it's not that you're just coming up with clever things yeah but you're coming up with things that are practical yes the people can actually use write scale it right scale so the first company was around using the electrical system to monitor energy usage so if I can listen to the power line and know what electrical appliance is on there then I don't have to put a sensor everywhere so scale easy central single sensor with machine learning to do that this one was hey let's use the power law as an antenna you already have all this electrical in the wall can't we just use all that copper as an antenna and so that's how this works the sensor talks to the wall and so again we were leveraging the existing infrastructure so you can scale okay where did the benefits of that what is that so it's low power so look so right now if you have you know Wi-Fi right you got a Wi-Fi router in your house if you go really far away from it the signal goes down right if you add more walls in between the signal goes down so you add another router right but here where's the electrical it's kind of everywhere it's in every wall so even though I have one device that's basically receiving all the sensor data you don't have to add all these other devices to repeat that signal because remember the electricals everywhere so the ubiquity of the electrical system helps us out a lot so at what point do you wind up selling a company I say why you create one yeah so it's it's it's kind of this like you know to the three to four year thing you know do I see myself running this company for five years ten years and IPO and you know I think I want to get it to safe stable state and then who else can take it and accelerate it so we sold it to the first company was sold to another company who could accelerate it next company sold it to a company they can excel so we get it to a point where now it's mature enough but now a bigger company could take it on okay so when do we get rid of this company well this one was it was 20 2013 2012 probably 2012 so the first one I get sold 2010 yeah next one gets so 13 2013 barely three to four years yeah okay okay so you've done that been there done that yeah what's the next big yeah and this is nin where you know at the same time we've kind of vibrant research group happening right and so this is when we started to say hey we released I already started doing this work when I started as a professor is how do we use mobile phones for Diagnostics of screening room this is solving the healthcare problem this is also the same realization what's the most ubiquitous thing that I can build off of it's the phone I think what is it in a couple of years it's predicted that swimming more phones than people in the world mobile phones which is crazy to think about this is the most ubiquitous thing out there and it's very powerful you know this phone just from a few years ago is more powerful than the the ultrasound machine that you have in the doctor's that's right so so that's when I started thinking hey now if I could chipper supercharged this thing what can I do from a health standpoint and this was a pretty wacky concept to people like you doing what you do you're using a phone to do diagnosis but loaded I know that this would actually become whole research field but but yeah so this is an area we started working on pretty much when I started but then it start after the sustainability work and the home sensing work I started putting more emphasis on this one because I really wanted to make good strides in this and you're in that right now you haven't sold this yeah you did okay to whom so this one was a company called stenosis where we built a bunch of tools we had an asthma tool which used the microphone to diagnose asthma we had an app that looked at using the camera and flash to do non-invasive blood screening hmm so maybe hemoglobin in your blood you take a picture of the baby to get Billy Ruben in their blood you could do sleep assessment just using the sensors that are already on the phone and so we caught we created that company and then I got acquired by Google about two years later okay now you work with Google right now so the company got sold yeah but your expertise has become associated with projects there yes exactly so we sold the company and what a part of the deal was to help Google with healthcare because they're like okay we need that technology and I need you to help do this and but they were really great about this and Google's are very progressive company in the sense that they know how to work with academics so we're like okay no you can have your you can be a professor and work at Google how many companies would do that right and so they understand the value of having foot in academia and they also understand the value of me helpful we have Google do that you may have answered this already and we're coming to the end of this but where is your head right now or your heart either organ yeah it's my competition or my heart is not necessarily present you know what Google it's it's it's like it's like it's a I don't know battling disease it's like it's very my competition is or might it have a bigger mission Rogers solving health disparities democratizing healthcare that's where my heart is ever get there is are the enablers for me right but yeah I mean I mean right now I spend a lot of time at Google but also at the University and I just make it work right but right now I am a mission which is around healthcare and that's what I'm gonna solve so that's the last word thank you very much Thanks [Music]