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There's more to tech than computers: Pranav Mistry

Thursday, 16 February 2012 - 11:00am IST | Agency: DNA
Mistry is easily among the hottest names in the technology space today.

Pranav Mistry is easily among the hottest names in the technology space today. With a host of futuristic inventions to his credit, including the SixthSense technology (a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information), Mouseless (an invisible computer mouse) and intelligent sticky notes that can be searched, that is only natural. The 30-year-old MIT graduate demonstrated his SPARSH project at the Nasscom summit, demonstrating how it would be possible to copy data from a device by just a touch and then transfer it by simply touching another device, among other things. The innovator spoke to Suparna Goswami Bhattacharya on the journey so far.

How did you come up with SPARSH?
Technology constantly evolves over time. Right now, we are on the verge of an era where information is going to change its medium again — the way static mediums such as books gave way to dynamic mediums such as computers. I believe every industry at its maturity looks for human touch. Companies like Apple no longer just sell their products; they sell their designs, which call for better customer experience. I dream constantly. There are crazy questions which go on in my head — things like why can’t we see through the wall? I try and find a solution to these.

Inspired by science fiction, are you?
(Laughs) To be very honest, science fiction does not impress me at all. You will be surprised to know that I draw a lot of inspiration from Indian mythology, like the Mahabharata. For me, the epic is a great piece of science work. How the arrows sparked before colliding with each other. The architecture was drawn long back; we are just bringing in the technology.

How has the journey from Palampur to MIT been?
Exciting. In fact, for me India was also a journey and a great learning experience. I studied in a very inspiring school — Vidya Mandir. I was lucky as my school syllabus and structure was not very exam-oriented. I moved to Ahmedabad, then Mumbai. I also worked in Microsoft, moved to MIT… The journey helped me learn different things and apply my knowledge accordingly. I believe that one technological innovation cannot be applied to everyone across the board. A shared tractor for villagers will be more useful than a shared computer.

Are you looking at starting your own firm?
No. The fact that I am able to voice my opinion freely is because I am not tied or answerable to any company. I am not interested in making money. I want to be the voice of people, want to make stuff people actually need. Apple can continue making new versions of iPhone and some people may spend their money buying these, but how relevant is it to a villager in India?

But, how relevant are your products for the masses in India?
See, India is very unique in this sense. We skipped the computer age and jumped to mobile era. There are many in India who did not use a computer but are quite comfortable using a mobile. So, it is very much possible to introduce these people to new devices. As for solving India’s problems with technology, we need to go beyond the notion of technology being all about computers.

How would you rate Indian IT firms in terms of innovation?
To be honest, I can’t think of any company in India which is innovating enough. Companies like Infosys and Wipro are great, but what they are doing is selling their services to other countries. People talk about innovation and hold seminars on it. But no innovation in the world has come through brainstorming sessions. You can refine a product by discussions, but cannot come up with something new sitting in meetings.

How often do you come down to India? Any plans of settling down here?
I come here often. My family is here. I will shift to India only after 3-4 years.

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