Catalyst

Soon information is going to go completely invisible: CEO of Samsung STAR Labs

Vinay Kamath Chitra Narayanan | Updated on February 07, 2020 Published on February 07, 2020

Pranav Mistry of Samsung STAR Labs on AI and the positive power of data

The year started with much hype around Neon, an artificial human prototype showcased at CES.

It was conceptualised by India-born Pranav Mistry, the 39-year old President and CEO of Samsung STAR Labs who has, in the past, won accolades for SixthSense, a gesture-controlled wearable device, Samsung Galaxy Gear, and more.

Cat.a.lyst had a chance to catch up with whizkid inventor Mistry during one of his India visits last year, before he took over the Star Labs role, when he was senior global VP at the company. At that time he shared his thinking on the future of technology and more. Excerpts:

Where is computing headed? We have seen the exciting Samsung Fold. What more radical shifts in form factors do you see?

If you think about the concept of computing, it all begins with calculations. Mainframes were all about equations. Slowly, the applications on computers became everyday-use stuff. As the application from the consumer side got more and more, the size of the computing device got smaller, so that it could fit into a pocket. Eventually in our researcher world, we believe that it will soon become invisible computing. Computing is made of intangible things. We don’t need a tangible body for an intangible thing. Information is going to go completely invisible. You won’t need to have separate devices doing things — all your everyday-use items, the clothes you wear, the glasses, all will be processing things.

What is causing that shift?

The key ingredient is data and inferencing the information using AI. That is what the future of computing is all about. Data is today getting a lot of bad name over privacy, etc. But you can take data in a positive way. A single drop of blood can help detect leukaemia. It can help predict diseases before they strike. It can tell farmers which crop to sow in their region.

How are the real world and the virtual world going to collide more and more?

Everyone has a different take on this. Let me give you my personal take. Take my own name — it means carpenter. We have been a clan of carpenters building things in Palanpur. If you look at the computer vocabulary, everything is derived from the physical world — scroll, mouse, drop down, are all concepts coming from the physical world into the virtual world.

Right now, everything in the digital world is derived from the physical world. But it might change with the next generation.

The second word that my little daughter learnt, after mom, was Alexa. In the new world, people may envision something in the digital world before the physical world.

But in the end, the digital and physical world need not be separate. My first introduction to augmented reality was the Mahabharata. My first introduction to virtual reality too was the Mahabharata. Sanjaya was watching the scene of the war sitting 80 km away and recounting it. He had the super power of VR. So, clearly, imagination existed those days.

Similarly, the Mahabharata talks about a palace of illusions built by Maya. Every culture has this imagination of Maya, illusion, magic — a power to create anything.

Our problem as technology creators is not about what we can make. The problem is what we should make. The ethical dilemma.

Don’t you get carried away by your imagination and build for building’s sake?

Of course, that part happens. We have a lot of secret creative projects taking place. Not the ones we show to the world. We build it, we use it. We are ourselves the users of our creations. But very few of those we take forward.

Samsung is into so many areas. What is your particular area of interest in research? Samsung believes in betterment of life in general, and all kinds of products, all kinds of technology that it is making, derive from this philosophy.

My personal area and interest is to bring new thinking and conceptualise what to bring next.

Where is technology headed?

Everyone talks about how technology is changing every industry. But it is interesting to see how every industry is changing technology.

What can biology or geography teach technology? For instance, the world of AI is based on how the human brain works. If you see a camera, it is the exact replica of the human eye.

I don’t think humans invent. The word we use is discover. Or research. Discover is something that already exists. Research is also something already there — you are searching. Nature is the biggest creator. We are only taking inspiration from Nature.

Published on February 07, 2020

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