Roboticist and Anki co-founder Boris Sofman on the original Nintendo and self-driving envy

Billy Steele
B. Steele|08.09.13

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Roboticist and Anki co-founder Boris Sofman on the original Nintendo and self-driving envy

Every week, a new and interesting human being tackles our decidedly geeky take on the Proustian Q&A. This is the Engadget Questionnaire.

In this week's edition of our regular question and answer session, Anki CEO and AI craftsman Boris Sofman discusses Super Mario overdosing and the rapid advance of app-driven devices. For a look at the full conversation, join us on the other side of the break.

Roboticist and cofounder Anki Boris Sofman on the OG Nintendo and selfdriving envyWhat gadget do you depend on most?
Undoubtedly, it's my iPhone. Whenever I have a free moment I can instantaneously become productive: respond to email, check my calendar, toy around with the Anki Drive app, etc. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing -- always being connected to what's going on -- but it certainly helps with the multi-tasking.

Which do you look back upon most fondly?
Original Nintendo! I loved the Zelda games, and of course Super Mario. My parents had to confiscate it from me for playing too much...

Which company does the most to push the industry?
For most of the past decade it was obviously Apple. Google is stepping up now and is willing to push some incredibly creative projects that are outside of their core area (autonomous car, Glass, etc.). If one of them sticks, it could have a massive impact. It's fascinating how companies can continue to innovate and shift focus to work on such projects. It's one of Google's strengths and an example to companies of all sizes. I'm curious to see what happens.

What is your operating system of choice?
It's OS X these days.

What are your favorite gadget names?
Some of the oldies (but goodies): Walkman, RAZR, Lego Mindstorms. Tesla Motors is an incredible name for a car company -- the word "Tesla" itself naturally has a sleek, powerful connotation to it, but also has the beautiful tie-in to the historical angle. I love it when products or companies have these hidden meanings that amplify the story.

What are your least favorite?
When people name products with obscure letters or numbers that don't actually tell the customer what it is they're buying. While I admire their products, the names of Garmin navigation devices and Dell laptops, for example, can get a bit confusing.

"The way 'apps' took over in such a short time has been remarkable."

Which app do you depend on most?
In addition to the obvious iPhone apps like Mail and Calendar, Google Maps and Yelp are my go-to apps -- finding your way to great food is half the battle.

What traits do you most deplore in a smartphone?
The battery always dies at the worst time... at least for me! I guess I overuse my phone. But it's okay: I'm getting much better at carrying a charger with me at all times.

Which do you most admire?
How smartphones have turned a product that was entirely hardware-focused into one entirely driven by software. And as someone who is developing on iOS, to see what people can create on the platform is pretty impressive. The way "apps" took over in such a short time has been remarkable.

What is your idea of the perfect device?
One that makes you think, "How did I ever get by without this?" even if you've only lived with it for a few years or less.

What is your earliest gadget memory?
Playing games on one of those 1980s gonzo laptops. You know, the ones that were like two inches thick with 16KB of RAM. And weighed about 12 pounds. We thought it was pretty cool back then (as I type on my MacBook Air).

What technological advancement do you most admire?
There are too many to pinpoint, but some of the biggies in my book include: GPS, WiFi, the Apple App Store model and incredibly low-cost -- but capable -- microcontrollers and sensors. All of these core technologies have spawned an endless array of unexpected applications.

Which do you most despise?
Not much, I just won't use gadgets I don't like. OK, maybe 3D movies - they still feel unnatural, but I know they're here to stay so I better get used to them!

What fault are you most tolerant of in a gadget?
When there is limited performance in the initial versions of the gadget. If the direction they're going is incredibly novel and will obviously improve over time, then I'm willing to give it time. A prime example of this is Siri, which continues to get better and better.

Which are you most intolerant of?
I can't forgive an awkward interface or design. That can really make you forget about the rest of the good things.

When has your smartphone been of the most help?
Stranded on a broken-down Muni train in a tunnel headed into downtown San Francisco. It was the only thing keeping me sane.

What device do you covet most?
The Google Autonomous Car. Does that count as a gadget? Because I want it...

If you could change one thing about your phone what would it be?
A battery that lasts through all the abuse I put it through in the course of any given day.

What does being connected mean to you?
Being able to call, text, email or check something online within 10 minutes of wanting to do so.

When are you least likely to reply to an email?
Middle of the day. Mornings and nights are when I catch up.

When did you last disconnect?
During a recent Fourth of July vacation to Hawaii, but that didn't last very long. I got restless and started working halfway through. So many details to think about on the road to Anki Drive's debut this fall!

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