Dr. Hector Ruiz is the former CEO and chairman of Advanced Micro Devices, with nearly 40 years experience in the information technology and consumer electronics sectors as an engineer, corporate strategist and chief executive. Before AMD, he spent 22 years at Motorola, rising to the position of president of the company's Semiconductor Products Sector, and six years at Texas Instruments. A native of Piedras Negras in Mexico, Ruiz, as a teenager, walked across the U.S.-Mexico border every day to attend high school in Eagle Pass, Texas, where he graduated valedictorian just three years after learning English. More than a decade later, he had obtained a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Rice University.
Hector Ruiz: You know in the history of our industry there have been some real major events that transformed the industry and had a huge impact in our lives. The invention of the integrated circuit really opened up a huge number of opportunities to do things that were unimaginable back then. Then the creation of the personal computer, the PC, that was a huge impact on our lives. Not only in our own personal lives but in the way industry conducted itself in how to use computers to do the things that were important to them. Then the third thing was the introduction, of course, of the Internet. I mean that Internet with PCs and the integrated circuit you can see how all that is building and changing the world.
I believe that the next step is going to be what’s called cognitive computing. Because technology has changed so much that we have now so much power in our computing capability and so much memory that we can store that we’re able, for the first time, to actually create products that begin to mimic how a brain works.
And what that means is that the product can actually – on a very narrow, particularly expertise, could be as narrow as, let’s say, weather forecasting for example – something very narrow. That the product begins to learn as it is used and in a way that means it has some cognitive capability. So the more you use it, the better it becomes at a particular function. To the point where it actually gets to a point where it begins to actually ask questions of you. Think of it as a child. You know, when a child is born their brain is empty. It begins to get filled with stuff, hopefully mostly good. And there comes a point in time when the child touches a hot plate and the mother says, “Hot.” Then the child knows from then on every time somebody says “hot” he better be careful because now it’s programmed in his brain and he’s learning. He continues to learn.
But there comes that time in the child’s life that all of us that have been parents either dread or look forward to is when the child starts asking why. When you do something, you say “why, why, why.” And what the child’s doing is learning. He now has enough cognitive capability to understand enough of what’s going on but not enough so he’ll ask why. Well, in the same way these circuits get to a point where actually they begin to query back and say I need more information. Give me more information. Tell me about this. And there are some experiments going on today in health care, in oil exploration, in financial transactions where they actually begin to tap the power of cognitive computing. And I believe that when that happens we’re gonna enter an era that’s unimaginable today.
And in some ways it’s kind of exciting to think of the fact that we get surrounded by intelligence that helps us make our lives better. But it’s also somewhat frightening in the fact that you’re now surrounded by intelligence that begins to think they know more than you do. But we’re moving in that direction. I see it happening. I think we’re about ten years away from that being a real commercial reality.
However, the work I’ve seen done in healthcare and oil exploration and financial transactions tells me that this thing is very real. And I’ll give you one small example of how powerful it can be. I cannot disclose the names of the companies but in one particular example is they’ve looked at the data on a particular medicine that was used to treat patients. And the way things have been done up to now is you get a medicine, you get FDA approval and then you put it out and then you collect data. And about ten years later you say, “You know what? We’re gonna take the medicine off the market because it’s causing some major problem.” Well, they took an example like that and said let’s pretend that we had this cognitive capability back then and fed the data that we had and see what happens. Well, this actually cognitive machine was able to predict within a matter of weeks of the product being on the market what took ten years of collecting data. So you can see how powerful something like that can be.
And what it does is because the computing capabilities are so fast and the amount of memory is so large, in a very narrow segment it can do what, let’s say, ten thousand people would do if you could get them all together in one room to look at one problem. And so I see this to me as the next revolution in technology and it will impact everything that we do.
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Elizabeth Rodd