The Master of Hallucination Behind Microsoft’s Future Vision
By: Claudia Repsold
Alex Kipman is the most remarkable Brazilian inventor since Santos Dumont. He has been named as the primary creator of over 90 patents since joining Microsoft in 2001. Kipman is the visionary behind Kinect that sold eight million copies in its first three months of release, setting a new Guinness World Record for the fastest-selling consumer electronic device.
In 2010, Kipman barely passed the age of 30, earned an honored place in TIME’s “Top 25 Nerds of the Year” and was named by Fast Company one of the most creative people in business. One year later, he entered Microsoft’s Hall of Legends and in 2012, he was awarded National Inventor of the Year by the American Intellectual Property Owners Education Foundation.
Kipman, with shoulder-length hair and severely cropped bangs, is a restless inventor, shifting from one Converse All-Star to the other. He’s been working on this holographic headset for five years. His latest invention, the HoloLens, is considered Microsoft’s most ambitious products in years and uses a technology similar to the one you saw in the movie “Mission Impossible”.
He is an innovator that is changing the way technology interacts with the real world
Everything you Need to Know about Alex Kipman in his own words *
“I started to have contact with the technology when I was five years old, playing Atari 2600. Early on I thought the software, as well as the games, were the only forms of art in which the barrier is the imagination.
I was born in Curitiba, but lived in Brasilia because of my father’s diplomatic career. I grew up in a very creative home, where the ability to learn was always within my reach.
I was less than ten years old when I started digging around on the computer, an XT model. At that time, I started to learn Basic systems on my own.
My teen years were divided between Rome and Miami. I have never been very interested in school. I really like programming, video games and music. I have 12 thousand songs in my pocket; from Metallica to the Black Eyed Peas and even Japanese pop. However, it was in classical music that I discovered the similarities with technology.
Beethoven is my favorite composer, especially because he broke all the rules. They said it was not possible to have creativity in classical music, but he showed that it was possible to be creative and not follow a single standard.
This quest for novelty continued in college. In 1996, I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology, to study software engineering with emphasis in artificial intelligence. By the age of 19, I decided to have my own technology services company in San Francisco. It was the dotcom era. The problem is that I started to get bored and lose creativity.
I decided to change course and began working with research for NASA at the University. I made the image algorithms so that scientists could see through the lens of a telescope attached to a plane that was taking pictures of the universe in search for life on other planets. At that time, I was torn between work and research in New York, Rochester and Boston. I learned to sleep on planes, only two hours a night – which I still do until today.
In 2000, I received a call from Microsoft. I had just bought a condo in Manhattan and I promised my girlfriend Amanda, now my wife, I would not accept the job offer. I’ve never worked with corporate systems, I was used to using open source software. When Microsoft invited me to go there, I laughed. However, I decided to visit the company’s headquarters in Redmond. It was very surprising. I talked to people there and at the end of the day I was greeted by Bill Gates.
I’ve always been a big fan of his. It all happened very fast. Bill Gates asked me why I wanted to work for Microsoft; I was mesmerized and I ended up closing the contract on the spot.
In 2001, I got married, bought a dog and, on June 25, I began working for Microsoft. My career started in .NET systems. It was a learning lesson. I spent three years working twenty hours a day.
In 2003, a colleague and I did a six-hour presentation to Bill Gates about a project that would result in Windows Vista. Despite all our hard work, Windows Vista had a lot of criticism. It made me look at life in a different way.
The idea of Kinect happened when I was visiting Brazil. In 2007, I took time off from Microsoft and then went to spend some time at my aunt´s ranch in a small town, in the state of Paraná.
It is a place without any technology. Not even cell phone works there. In this scenario, I had a “Eureka” moment: what if we make the technology disappear. I spent my life playing video games, an average of 40 hours a week, but I’ve never worked with it.
After three weeks in the ranch in Brazil, I came back to Redmond and went to talk with the Xbox team, among them, the video game creator, Todd Holmdahl. Before creating the XBox, he invented the optical mouse at Stanford.
Todd was the one who convinced Bill Gates that Microsoft’s strategy was wrong and the company should enter the video game business. Tom also knew my project and believed that would be possible.
I created the project that year and following the Microsoft´s guideline christened the project under the name of a town. The project was named; Natal, one of the places that I love in Brazil.
That’s how the Kinect was born. We did the control disappear; this is a way to erase the line between the digital and analog worlds. See something on a screen and pressing buttons to interact, it is not natural. The interaction with technology should be as natural as possible.
Now, for years, we’ve worked on the HoloLens – codename Project Baraboo – hiding in plain sight in the Microsoft visitor’s center. We are ready to move beyond screens and pixels, to move beyond today´s digital borders.
Ultimately, you know, you perceive the world because of light. If I could magically turn the debugger on, we’d see photons bouncing throughout this world. Eventually they hit the back of your eyes, and through that, you reason about what the world is. You essentially hallucinate the world, or you see what your mind wants you to see.
Until now, we’ve immersed ourselves in the world of technology but, what if we could take technology and immerse it in our world?
Software is the only art form in existence that is not bound by the confines of physics. You are only ever bound and constrained by lack of imagination. ”
Claudia Repsold is the Editor-in-Chief of Brazil & USA Biz. She is a Brazilian international award- winning journalist with twenty years of experience in editing, research, coordination, production and reporting news on Brazil and U.S.