Waiting in a California maternity ward for his daughter Sophie to be born in 1997, software entrepreneur Philippe Kahn was restless and bored. He began tinkering with his flip phone and a digital camera, synching them together through code he created on his laptop right then and there.
Just like that, the camera-phone came into being, followed by Sophie, the first person ever to be captured in real time with a mobile phone. Kahn went on to refine his prototype and change the way we communicate today, becoming one of the most prolific tech people in Silicon Valley.
What do you make of your invention today?
The camera phone is the most successful consumer electronics device of all time and an important sociological tool that’s opened communications globally.
It’s something everyone uses, everywhere in the world. To have been at the origin of that is amazing, obviously, but I’ve always liked to invent, to innovate and to build great teams that create great technology—and that hasn’t been limited to that first device.
Did you ever imagine the selfie would become so pervasive?
Not really. But I think selfies are fun. They’re a way of creating personal memories.
You’re a bit of a serial tech entrepreneur. You’ve founded four software companies over the years, spanning wireless synchronisation and wearable technology
Yes. All my ventures have been focused on the future and the changes that can be brought about by the technology we work on.
I’m a mathematician, a scientist and an inventor, not a business person per se, so I work around what I know, even when it comes to establishing a new company.
What aspects of technology are you most drawn to?
I’m interested in the paradigm shifts in technology. With the camera phone, for instance, we created something completely new: point, shoot and share instantly. That’s a paradigm shift.
What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m interested in the paradigm shift that can turn a bed into a smartbed; that’s what my current company, Fullpower Technologies, is focusing on.
How do you go about turning a bed into a smartbed?
Through something called Sleeptracker, a software system that can monitor sleeping and waking performance to help us understand and improve our sleep. It can be built into your bed— any bed, so you don’t need to buy a new one.
I see it as a potentially huge opportunity to improve people’s sleep— and lives—right around the planet.
You and your wife work together. How do you split your duties?
We focus separately on complementary components: Sonia runs the financial and business strategies of our operations, and I work on the technology.
We are both first-generation immigrants. We both came to the Silicon Valley armed just with dreams and the will to work hard to turn those dreams into reality. That has created a strong bond between the two of us.
How do you take your mind off work?
Through music. I come from a family of musicians and cabinet makers, so music has always come naturally to me. I always say that I am a professional amateur.
I got my master’s degree in flute performance and composition simultaneously with my master’s in mathematics.
(Text by Marianna Cerini)