Technology

Exclusive Ideagen Interview Series (Part I) With Microsoft’s Dr. Sidhant Gupta

An Exclusive interview with Ideagen’s George Sifakis and Dr. Sidhant Gupta, Microsoft Research.

George: Welcome to Ideagen Ideas Leader Radio. Today we have with us Dr. Sidhant Gupta from Microsoft. Sidhant, welcome. 

Sidhant: Thank you, George. 

George: Sidhant is a researcher in the medical devices group at Microsoft. He broadly investigates mobile sensing techniques and builds hardware for better understanding the human body and progressing frontiers of medical science. He graduated with a doctorate in computer science from the University of Washington in 2014. His graduate research was built on his philosophy of sensing everywhere without putting sensors everywhere. That is to find ways to send signals with minimal hardware that is easy to install and low cost. During his PhD work he invented a device that plugs into a home’s electrical outlet that lets homeowners see and matches not only how much energy their home consumes but also how it is used. 

For example it shows power usage of each and every appliance using only a single plug-in sensor. His published work has received various best paper awards and has been the basis of various commercialization efforts. Sidhant has been named one of the top 30 technology disrupters under the age of 30 by Forbes and so many other accolades including serving as Board Chairman at Idea-gen.com. Sidhant, you really are changing the world. Welcome to the show today. We’re so honored to have you with us. 

Sidhant: Thank you for such a kind introduction, George. 

George: Of course. We’re going right into the interview with Ideagen. We always like to start with asking, please highlight the incredible work that you’re doing as a change agent across the planet. Sidhant, could you please describe Microsoft’s unique mission and especially your work with Microsoft Research. 

Sidhant: Indeed. Just like our CEO Satya Nadella puts it: it is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to do more. At Microsoft research we are empowering people whenever and wherever it’s possible. Whether that’s creating new software that makes you more productive while you go about your business or making technology that is designed for underprivileged kids.

Microsoft Research spans all of the various technologies from Cloud Technology, mobile software, hardware to medical devices. The way our group, the Medical Devices group, is going to empower people is by supporting patients with a potentially fatal disease that prevents them from living their life the way they want to. We’re going to give them a device that’s going to alleviate the tension and anxiety that comes with the disease management. We’ll enable them to do more with their life.

George: Incredibly inspiring, Sidhant. This is just profound perspective. What inspired you to join Microsoft?

Sidhant: That’s a long list but it started when I first spent a few weeks here as an intern many years ago. At that time, I had worked at many large corporations, many research labs across the world and I thought I was doing well professionally and that I was above average. But when I came here I felt I was the least knowledgeable person in the room, which was both an awful feeling and an inspiring one at the same time. I realized how amazing this place is and how incredibly smart everyone around me was. That day I decided that, “You know what, one day I want to work shoulder to shoulder next to these people, that’s how I will grow intellectually.” That’s one.

It’s just the incredibly smart people all around me and folks who have made fundamental breakthroughs in the field of computer science and other engineering disciplines and they have no ego. You can ask them the most fundamental question and they leave everything and come help a junior person. Second, what really inspired me about Microsoft and Microsoft Research in particular is Microsoft Research understands how the process of discovery works. There’s a lot of failure in this line of work. It’s a slow process. It’s a step by step process and Microsoft Research is just one of the few places in the world that understands how scientific discoveries work and it empowers its employees just like we’re empowering our customer to be able to do more.

George: That is simply inspiring, Sidhant, to hear the process of discovery in a profound sort of leadership from a thought leadership perspective that Microsoft and Microsoft Research are infusing into the research that’s taking place. That leads us to another question, which is how does your role at Microsoft inspire you as you address many of the world’s most pressing issues via the technology solutions that you’re driving towards?

Sidhant: That’s a great question, George. There’s a couple of answers to it. The one that really comes to my mind is you mentioned the world’s most pressing issues and how we’re attacking those. The thing with pressing issues is the reason they still exist is because they’re hard to solve. If they were not, it wouldn’t be a pressing issue.

Solving hard problems often involves scientific breakthroughs and sometimes even fundamental discoveries. At Microsoft Research we get to work on these hard problems whether that’s tackling diseases, increasing workplace productivity or even working on how humanity can one day go to Mars.

What Microsoft Research has set up is it gives researchers, which is essentially my role, intellectual freedom and any logistical support needed to make scientific discoveries and to have an impact. That’s just inspiring everyday. Every day when I come to work I realize how fortunate I am that I can not only work on these hard problems, but truly have the time and the freedom from the management that working on these problems require. Failure is part of an everyday life here. Failure is celebrated because if you’re failing it means you’re trying hard enough and yes, you read these in self-help books that failing is part of success but it’s actually implemented here and you can see it every day.

People would fail, something would not work despite years of hard work and yes, it demotivates, but only for a couple of minutes and then you’re back up again back solving the hard problems.

06/08/2016 04:35 pm ET

Wisdom, Technology and Education: Ideagen Talk by Dr. Kiko Suarez

Lumina Foundation’s Dr. Kiko Suarez - Exclusive Ideagen Talk

Dr. Kiko Suarez of Lumina Foundation discusses wisdom, technology, and education

During a recent Ideagen Talk, Dr. Kiko Suarez from Lumina Foundation discussed wisdom and technological changes. He expressed his concern not only about “the skills gap” but also “the wisdom gap.” Dr. Suarez said, “...If you are able to see the patterns in a complex world, then you will feel at ease. And that’s what wisdom brings.” In describing wisdom, he referred his framework as saying, “wisdom is out GPS for complexity.... we are all born with it, we just have to nurture the senses.” After research, Suarez “...came up with eight senses...out of the many that wisdom has. ...When it comes down to data, there are two that come to mind. The rational sense.... and the practical sense.”

Dr. Suarez continued to discuss the way that senses often refer back to outcomes. Aesthetic sense, he described, means “beautiful outcomes,” saying that “learning and equity” are beautiful outcomes. Suarez referred to another sense as well, which he called “timeness”, known as “the perspective of time,” which Suarez said, “we are losing...sometimes.” Timeness, he said, is the “ability to put in perspective past, present, and future.” According to Suarez, this perspective is “the strongest of the dimensions” in the wise people he researches. Timeness “is not knowledge, it is not experience. It is the ability to put things in perspective, in time.”

Discussing Lumina Foundation, Dr. Suarez talked about Lumina’s Goal 2025. Dr. Suarez referred back to his initial interview with Lumina, and how he said “2025 means something to me and my family.” He thought about how he has “little ones. Now, those little ones will be college age by 2025.... it was very obvious that I had something at stake [in Goal 2025].” Suarez then referred to his father, who “when he was 9 or 10, he was boarding one of these trains, and he went to Belgium,” something that Dr. Suarez “cannot imagine myself or my wife going through.”

Dr. Suarez then went on to describe the rapid changes in technology, and said, “...In 1976, in a conversation with my dad, he reminded me that he saw his first ATM.” Suarez said, “In 2001, my dad passed. And the iPod was launched.” Then, in 2007, “the iPhone comes out.... since the iPhone launched, everything has changed.... the Internet is in our hands now, and a lot of things are happening that we couldn’t even imagine.” Then, in 2010, “the first iPad comes out.... And now, it’s all over the place.” Now, “In 2015, Alexa comes here.... a little piece of technology [from Amazon]...similar to Siri....you ask questions, and you address Alexa.” Suarez said, “The first question [my kids] asked was ‘Alexa, can you make breakfast and clean my bed?’”

Dr. Suarez said he looks “at the curve of progression, and it would be a pity if we didn’t take advantage of technology,” and that there “has to be data out there that we can use for good.” Talking again about Goal 2025, Suarez argued that “we live in an era of technology and change, and we are in the business of challenging higher ed,” which needs data added “to the conversation.” Dr. Suarez finished his Ideagen Talk by discussing how income inequality can make it more difficult for less wealthy students to graduate college. He said, “Look at the income level - if you are a wealthy kid, you will graduate.... If you are not, it is not likely that you will.” He added “...if you don’t have any higher education in America.... You stay in the lowest quintile [of wealth].”

These critical insights are essential to the work Dr. Suarez and Lumina Foundation are working to address via Goal 2025 and support of programs across the nation that hold the potential to provide opportunity for every citizen.

09/23/2015 10:36 am ET