It was a summer evening in 1997, and Philippe Kahn was anxiously waiting for his daughter Sophie to be born. Desiring to share her birth instantly with family and friends, he conceived what would become the world’s first camera phone. The Internet was only four years old and only good for simple email with limited wireless connection. So he bought a Casio QV-10 digital camera and inserted it into a Motorola Startac phone. When Sophie was born, her photo became the first ever camera-phone image, something that, 20 years on, we take for granted.
Now Kahn runs several companies, including Fullpower, founded in 2003, which provides a patented ecosystem for wearables and Internet of Things products. The inspiration for his main product, the Sleeptracker Monitor, stems from Kahn’s passion for sailing — he owns a team called Pegasus Racing. During a demanding race that means sailors have less than an hour’s sleep in a 24-hour period, Kahn began experimenting with biosensors and three-axis linear accelerometers that could detect micro-movements. Kahn created prototype sleep trackers using biosensors that optimised 26-minute power naps to maximise sleep benefits and sail time.
Billionaire caught up with the inventor to find out what keeps him up at night.
Of all of your inventions and patents pending, which do you think will have the most impact?
I love what the camera phone has done for our fellow humans: to be able to instantly share memories and events. Now I am focused on improving people’s sleep with the Sleeptracker Monitor. We spend a third of our lives sleeping and if I can help improve sleep quality by 10 percent that will be a huge benefit.
How will the monitor help improve sleep and health?
We live in a sleep-deprived world. We are so busy with work, kids, personal commitments, workouts and so on, that it is not realistic to tell people to sleep longer. So my focus is on improving sleep performance. Just like an athlete wants to improve their performance. For that, we’ve built some advanced artificial intelligence and deep-learning tools that help provide advanced personalise insights and coaching for everyone.
Your newborn daughter was the inspiration for the world’s first camera phone. What have been your other inspirations?
Solo and double-handed sailing led to my passion for improving sleep. When one crosses an ocean and never gets to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time, six times day, as a mathematician and inventor I wanted to build a sleep monitor and tools to understand how to optimise and improve the quality of my sleep. That lead to the Sleeptracker Monitor.
As an AI expert, do you think that the current fear about robots threatening the human race is valid?
I am not concerned as much about robots being a threat. I am more concerned now about the misuse of AI to continually search and deliver more content that is ‘just like me’ and entrenches me in my world. We need to use AI, machine learning and deep learning to build bridges, rather than to make deeper and more impenetrable moats between people.