How can we shift from a reactive to a proactive world that will make our lives easier, healthier, safer, and more productive? Joseph, together with Saudi electrical and computer engineer Nazek El-Atab, talk about their inspirations, dreams, and hopes for the future in this compelling conversation.
As they ask each other questions, they share what sparked their passions, and they exchange ideas on how tech advances can improve lives. Whether it’s building cognitive cities, creating multi-purpose robots, or designing multi-dimensional integrated circuits, we can create a tech environment inclusive of all people and their ideas for the purpose of improving many lives.
Tech & Digital sector is going to bring the power of cognitive technology to the world – that means the ability to shift from a reactive to a proactive world to create new experiences.
That can make the human life easier, healthier, safer, and more productive.
I’m Joseph Bradley Father, digital humanist, and the Sector Head for Tech & Digital.
I’m Nazek El-Atab, and I am an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
To be a Changemaker is to want the world to be a better place.
To be focused, to be humble, and to be passionate about something that is bigger than oneself.
Hi, Nazek, how are you?
Hi, Joseph. I’m good. How are you?
It’s great to meet you. I’m super excited to have a great conversation today. How did you get involved in tech? What inspired you?
Research in the fields of electronic devices and systems allow me to contribute to technological advances that can solve global challenges and that can make human life easier, healthier, safer, and more productive. This has been the source of my inspiration, and this is what I would like to achieve through my research.
That’s really great. When I was growing up, I had a grandfather that was very, very close to me. He always would talk about transforming a city of people. As you move data and decision making as close as you can to the customer, value improves exponentially. And that’s what I love about your work; it is all about the people and being able to bring technology to them.
Joseph, tell me, what was your proudest moment?
Well, I would get in trouble if I didn’t say that it is being married to my wife for over 30 years. But in terms of technology, I would have to say it was working with some incredible people at Cisco to create the Internet of Everything, to be a part of that team, to birth that vision, and to bring it to life.
Was there a single person in your life that really excited you about technology?
Actually, it was an elective course that I took during my undergraduate studies. In high school, I used to like Math and Physics, and so my parents suggested that I do computer and communications engineering. As I took the courses, I realized that I wasn’t really passionate about what I was learning. And then when I took the Introduction to Nanotechnology course, the professor used to explain to us how we can tune the properties of material as we play with the dimensions.
It was very inspiring. I decided to shift majors and to pursue Microsystems Engineering and to do my research in a university.
That’s incredible. Wow! I don’t think I had that focus. Yeah, I was an only child for 11 years and in that time, I got introduced to my first video game; it was a basketball game where you could push two digits and you could move around and try to score. I wanted to involve myself in a field or in work that allows me to touch many people. And I think that’s what so exciting.
What was your favorite piece of technology growing up as a young lady?
I would say the TV, remote control, you know, when it fell down and it got dismantled and I saw inside, I got curious to understand how it worked, and in fact, I have worked on the development of a smart system that allows us to control the TV settings using hand gestures and computer vision.
That’s really great. Is there any technology that can have a huge impact between now and the next few years?
I can give an example of something that I have worked on. It is a multi-dimensional integrated circuit. This system is ultra-small, it’s lightweight, it is nature inspired in a way. We have integrated on the exterior water quality sensors and air quality sensors. While on the interior we have integrated the brain, the power, and data management circuitry. It is then encapsulated and packaged using an ecofriendly material such that when it’s thrown into the water, it will autonomously adjust its position and start collecting data about the water quality and send data in real time to the farmer.
I believe that especially here at KAUST, we have been working on different exciting technologies from wearables to drug delivery systems to robotics. This is a solar cell that shows world record stretchability and flexibility with high efficiency and is ultra-lightweight. And in fact, based on this work, we were able to secure the first international fund from Lockheed Martin, where we have shown the extension of the flight time of drones using these solar cells.
I love all the tech that you talked about. The Metaverse for me is exciting great technology and I think a whole set of unique experiences. It’s just super exciting to see what’s about to happen.
Can you tell me about some of the technologies that we’re developing at NEOM?
One of the greatest challenges that we face at NEOM as we think about building a cognitive city is how do you build trust? You know, no trust means no data. No data means no value. When you think about the technologies that we’re working on, it really centers around artificial intelligence, robotics, and human machine interface technology – natural language processing, multi-purpose robots, robots that can change their purpose for you in life.
And then probably the human machine interface technologies or HMI, where these technologies allow you to be more of you, the best of you possible. One of the things I hope that we can inspire is having an environment in technology that is truly inclusive of all peoples and all viewpoints and get everyone excited.
Well, I must tell you, it was great meeting you, and I really enjoyed our conversation. Hope you have a great day, and I can’t wait to watch the rest of your career.
Thank you, Joseph. The pleasure’s all mine.