Skip to main content

Musings from Philippe

Sailing, Mountains, Music, and Technology

Interview Series: Philippe Kahn

The legendary technologist, mathematician (and musician) and prolific inventor took the time to answer “the Delivery Man” questions.

Philippe Kahn is a mathematician,  engineer, entrepreneur, and founder of four technology companies: Fullpower-AI, Borland, Starfish Software, and LightSurf Technologies; Kahn is credited with creating the first camera phone. He is a pioneer in wearable technology, intellectual property, and AIoT and is the author of 345+ technology patents covering the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) modeling, wearable, smart eyewear, smartphone, mobile, imaging, wireless, synchronization and medical technologies. (Source: Partially Wikipedia)

This month, we welcome the legendary Philippe Kahn. If there is one person you cannot put a label on, he is the one. His passions merged into an overall knowledge that could be compared to the Renaissance Enlightenment period. While he is known for some key moments and products in the world of technology, Philippe has always been working on advancing technology 10 years ahead of everyone. While everyone is talking about AI, Philippe has been working on AI/ML for many years now and even an early propagator of the word AIoT.

So, without further notice, let’s explore what’s up in the life of Philippe and his latest projects and takes on technology.

Early Days

The Delivery Man (DM): What sparked your interest in technology, and who were your early inspirations?

Philippe Kahn (PK): The elegance of the scientific method, particularly the mathematician’s approach, is at the root of data science and AI.  Seeing a normal distribution curve was a revelation in 6th grade.  

DM: Can you share insights about your educational journey and how it shaped your career in technology?

PK: I pursued two parallel tracks as long as possible: Mathematics and Music. Both share much in common. In the end, after completing a double master’s, I chose science and technology as a professional, yet I continued music as a daily practice.  I had the opportunity to pursue my Ph.D., but I chose to leave academia. 

Founding Borland

DM: What motivated you to start Borland, and what were your initial goals for the company?

PK: As a software engineer with a nascent personal computing revolution, we needed better tools to build software and be more productive.  Putting a fast IDE together with a very fast compiler and a compact runtime library was a great opportunity.

DM: During your time at Borland, what were some of the significant challenges you faced, and what accomplishments are you most proud of?

PK: The challenges were always how to compete successfully with companies at least 10 times our size.  Our accomplishments were our successes with development and productivity tools. We built the first and arguably the most successful IDE in 1983, Turbo Pascal, and rapidly amassed over 1 million developers. That work influenced the whole industry, including offerings such as CodeWarrior in 1993 and Microsoft Visual tools at a later date.  

Transition to Mobile Technology

DM: What inspired your shift from software to mobile technology?

PK: My work is always software-centric. In late 1996, I thought that with a nascent digital cell phone infrastructure, new low-powered CMOS imaging sensors, and more powerful embedded processors in cell phones, there was an untapped opportunity. I saw the opportunity to have instant media sharing over public networks. I started to build the server infrastructure in October 1996.  The birth of my daughter about 10 months later, in June 1997, was the catalyst for the first pictures.  

DM: Can you describe the moment or process that led to the creation of the first camera phone? (DM side comment: Your daughter was definitely the inspiration but the immediate response within the first few minutes must have felt incredible. That photo was taken 25+ years ago)

PM: That moment was a good illustration of: “If it weren’t for the last moment, nothing would get done.” Fortunately, Casio had just shipped the first commercially successful digital camera, there was also a good cellular coverage at the maternity, and my wife was very encouraging and gave me the time to “get it all to work.’

DM: How do you feel about the way camera phones have changed the world, especially in terms of social media and communication?

PK: I think they are great. We are essentially giving a voice to in hands of everyone on the planet.  The positives far outweigh the negatives. 

Current Tech Trends

DM: What current technological trends excite you the most, and why?

PK: For the last decade, we have been developing and deploying a sense-and-response AIoT platform for sensing applications. More power at both the edge and the cloud makes new generation solutions possible such as smart beds, interactive remote patient monitoring, smart home automation, and more. 

DM: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the tech industry currently?

PK: I think that there are many more opportunities than challenges. The widespread adoption of AI is opening a lot of opportunities. 

DM: Where do you see the future of mobile technology heading?

PK: The future is AIoT where the intelligence is cooperatively on the edge and the cloud. 

DM: Can you tell us about any recent projects or endeavors you are working on?

PK: Our work is in deploying our AIoT platform worldwide. Today we are running on 60+ countries with over 1 million connected users. Our work is to increase efficiencies and grow 50% a year. 

DM: What are your thoughts on the rise of artificial intelligence and its impact on society?

PK: We are bullish about AI, that’s what we do. My thinking is that “AI will neither save or doom the world, its people that will.

Personal Life: 

DM: What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs aiming to innovate in technology?

PK: Get to understand Data Science, Machine Learning, and AI in general. 

DM: How have you managed work-life balance throughout your high-paced career?

PK: I am focused on where my passions are and as such I avoid to have rigid partitions. I integrate one another fluidly. 

DM: Who do you look up to in the technology industry today?

PK: My heroes are always in the realm of science and technology. In sciences I revere Einstein who studied and taught in my alma mater. My mentors in the technology industry are Andy Grove at Intel, who helped me when I immigrated and Professor Niklaus Wirth who was my teacher at ETHZ.

DM: How do you want to be remembered in terms of your impact on technology?

PK: That’s an interesting question. I hadn’t thought about that. I guess I am always focused on my next adventure, which here is Fullpower-AI as opposed to the past. 

DM: Can you discuss any philanthropic endeavors you are involved in?

PK: We created a foundation called the Lee-Kahn Foundation. The Lee-Kahn Foundation was founded and funded by my wife, (the entrepreneurSonia Lee and myself. The Foundation proudly sponsors local and national non-profit organizations dedicated to advancing humane growth through increased access to health care, education and the arts. It is deeply committed to sustaining a quality environment in which our children will flourish.

DM: Looking back, what are some key lessons you’ve learned in your career?

PK: Number one lesson: Focus on being the best at what you do and avoid distractions. Craftsmanship matters. It will pay off. 

DM: Finally, what is your vision for the future of technology?

PK: AI everywhere

DM: Thank you so much Philippe for sharing your story and some of your views on the future and present. Always great to see the area you are focusing on because it is usually a great predictor of coming technology advancements.

© 2001-2024 Musings from Philippe