“I believe that the line between arts and sciences has grown too rigid in recent years. The STEM movement’s exclusion of the arts as a different way to exercise the brain and the sad state of funding for music and arts programs at most public schools concerns me greatly. Although we may be graduating great engineers, their perspective or connection to the humanities and the human experience in the world may only serve to further alienate engineers and technologists from those who do not have a STEM background. I’d love to see a movement to strengthen the link between the arts and sciences to help define the human experience in today’s modern age.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Weast. Jack is the Senior Principal Engineer and Chief Systems Architect of Automated Driving at Intel. In his 20-year career at Intel, Jack has gained a reputation as a change agent in new industries that are adopting high performance compute for the first time. Most recently, Jack is leading Intel and Mobileye’s efforts to solve the safety assurance challenge for Automated Vehicles — namely, how do you know an Automated Vehicle will make safe decisions and so is worthy of being given a “license to drive.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I’ve played classical piano since I was four or five years old and started my college career thinking I’d pursue a career in music. As a child, when I wasn’t making music I was playing with and programming computers teaching myself how to program using Compute magazine. Only after starting college did I finally swap my hobby for a career and changed my major to Computer Science.
Although it’s been nearly 20 years since I graduated with a degree in Computer Science, I find that my early exposure to the arts taught me to see challenging engineering problems through a different lens. Despite being made up of zero’s and ones, there are often shades of grey when trying to understand a technical solution to a seemingly insolvable problem. Having a background in both the arts and sciences has given me a more holistic perspective to the work that I do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
At some point along the way, more of my colleagues found out that I was a classically trained pianist and closet member of a rock band made up of friends and family. With that cat out of the bag, demands for a “performance” grew and grew until I had to do something about it. We put on a live rock show in the outdoor courtyard of Intel’s cafeteria and invited everyone to come hang out and see me perform.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I love the way Intel never sees any problem as too big or difficult to solve. The talent we have at Intel and the ability to bring such a diverse set of expertise together to do is something truly unique. For example, we were researching concepts around “unconstrained computing” inspired by some technology that we had in development within our research labs (what is now 3DXpoint memory). We were imagining what if “computers” had an unlimited amount of “memory”? What could you do with that? Who would even want or use such a crazy computer?
That’s when I joined forces with Tawny Schliesky, who with a background in the theater arts, was exploring new forms of storytelling with some of the most creative film studios and theater companies around the world. It turns out that one of the most common computer aided design and story techniques used today — computer generated characters — is an incredibly laborious and computationally intense activity. The designers of these characters often have no ability to “see” what they’ll look like when actors are “performing” what will eventually become a computer generated character.
That got us thinking — what if one of these “unconstrained computers” could solve that problem for them? One thing led to another and we found ourselves collaborating with Imaginarium (Andy Serkis aka Golem’s company) and the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest where the world’s first ever live motion capture and re-projection of a computer generated character onto a live actor was performed in Stratford-Upon-Avon. That’s the kind of thing that just amazes me about what Intel can do, and the lasting imprint our company has made not just on the technology industry, but the world at large.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes. Safety is one of the most important issues that governments around the world are facing with the impending deployment of automated vehicles. Regulators struggle with issues like how will we know when an autonomous vehicle should be issued a “license to drive”? Industry driven approaches today are very techy and based on data driven metrics like “miles driven” or “number of disengagements”, and while that’s great for those who love statistics, the real question is what do those metrics really tell us about whether the automated vehicle can be trusted to make safe driving decisions in *all* cases, not just the specific scenarios that it was exposed to?
That’s where we really need to think differently about the problem, and when you think of it from a humanistic perspective, humans aren’t machines. We don’t submit statistics to prove we’re safe drivers, but the safest drivers among us do have some specific, human-like characteristics. So we thought — what if we could embed these very human-like characteristics of what it means to be a safe human driver into the automated “driver”?
For example: always maintain a safe following distance or understand the concept of having when right of way should be given rather than taken. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve embodied those human-like characteristics of safe driving into some mathematical formulas that can be proven to ensure that the automated vehicle will always make safe decisions. In this way we provide the fundamental building blocks for safety that can apply to *all* driving scenarios, inspired by the safest human drivers we know. This is another great example of how you can’t rely on just pure math and science to solve some of the most difficult challenges the world faces. The human and artistic side of the story is often a great source of inspiration to a new and novel technical solution.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Robert Noyce, one of Intel’s founders famously said, “Don’t be encumbered by the past, go off and do something wonderful.” In that sense, the best advice I give to my employees is to forget about what’s been done or what someone might have said couldn’t be done. There’s always a different way to look at a problem, and it’s when you find the right perspective (without filters or prejudice) that you have that a-ha moment that leads to the solution.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t be at Intel today if it wasn’t for a professor at Portland State University — Warren Harrison — who saw something in me that I didn’t even see myself at the time. I was just beginning my transition from music to Computer Science and Professor Harrison suggested I apply for a summer Internship at Intel. I would have never imagined doing something like that, not thinking I was ready for such an opportunity as I had only barely finished my first set of Computer Science courses.
With great fear and anxiety, I stepped into the unknown walls of Intel for a day-long interview by a round of incredibly smart folks. I left leaving there’s no way they’re going to hire me, so imagine my surprise when a summer Internship offer showed up, and now I’ve been at Intel ever since. I look back on that and think — why didn’t I trust more in what my Professor saw in me? It’s easy to beat yourself up and be your own worst critic, but when someone believes in you, first — don’t question their belief — thank them for it, and then ask yourself, what is it that they see in you that perhaps you’re not seeing yourself? Somewhere in there lies a hidden strength that you may not realize you have.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a kid growing up and practicing the piano for two, three, even four hours a day, my dream was to play in front of audiences and share the incredible joy that music can bring to all of us, or perhaps write music that could be enjoyed and inspire millions around the world. I would have never imagined that I’d have an entirely different way to bring goodness to the world.
The Tempest project was great way to blend these worlds, but nothing compares to the societal benefits that automated driving can have on the entire planet. Saving millions of lives, discovering new forms of mobility for the disabled or disadvantaged who need it most, and inventing a world where an auto accident or fatality will become something for the history books is something that’s so hard to fathom. It is beyond humbling to think that I could play even a small part in that incredible future.
What are your “5 Things I I’ve Learned”and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
a. Seek out and work with people whose intelligence and expertise scares you — that feeling in your brain/body means you have something to learn from them. After about 15 years at Intel, I felt like I had done a lot and wanted to do something new, outside my comfort zone. For me, I had an opportunity to work with Genevieve Bell, renowned technology anthropologist and Senior Intel Fellow. I had no idea what my new role would be exactly, but I knew I would learn something different and do incredible things — like the Tempest production. That experience with Genevieve taught me to challenge the status quo and look at things through a new lens that I didn’t have before — which is so important especially in a company with a legacy and history as rich and ingrained as Intel’s.
b. Actively reflect on your strengths and understand what they are. By doing so, you also gain clarity in where you have weaknesses. Be humble and honest about your limitations. Don’t hire people that are just like you — hire people whose strengths complement your weaknesses to build a better team.
c. Make time to exercise the other half of your brain (whichever one you don’t use at work). If you don’t reserve the time, you won’t do it (as evidenced by the dust on some of my instruments!) It could be a side project or a hobby that keeps you fresh. For me, I’ve been teaching my niece (13) and nephew (11) to program and build things, which in addition to being great fun, gives me the opportunity to practice something I don’t always get to do in my day to day job as often as I’d like!
d. No work is beneath you. I’ve always had the mindset that there’s nothing beneath me in terms of work that needs to be done. I’m always happy to help as it could be an opportunity to learn something new or see the world through somebody else’s eyes. Heck, I’ll do meeting minutes — someone has to!
e. Always have a bag packed. If you really want to make an impact, you can’t do it sitting in your cube. Early in my career, my boss walked up to a group of us asking who had a passport and could be ready to travel the next day. I was the only one with a passport, and therefore was given an opportunity simply because I was ready for it. I’d say this applies not only to travel but being mentally prepared to say yes to new opportunities — you never know where they’ll take you.
9. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe that the line between arts and sciences has grown too rigid in recent years. The STEM movement’s exclusion of the arts as a different way to exercise the brain and the sad state of funding for music and arts programs at most public schools concerns me greatly. Although we may be graduating great engineers, their perspective or connection to the humanities and the human experience in the world may only serve to further alienate engineers and technologists from those who do not have a STEM background. I’d love to see a movement to strengthen the link between the arts and sciences to help define the human experience in today’s modern age.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two — but they’re related:
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” — Thomas Edison
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” — Thomas Jefferson.
The link between these quotes is that I’ve always believed that hard work and dedication to will always bring great results and career success. Forget about the office politics or the other myriad of distractions. Work hard. You’ll not only get those once-in-a-career opportunities, but you’ll find luck and success in your work.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
Jerry Seinfeld. I love comedians. I love cars. I love coffee. I love Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. What better than Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee in an Autonomous Car?! Let’s give Jerry a break and let the autonomous car do the driving for once!
Originally published at medium.com