Jiawei Gu, 30
The AI expert designs interfaces that let technology assist rather than annoy.
When we meet at a café in Beijing’s 798 Art District, a creative hub in China’s capital, Jiawei Gu has turned off the notification pings from Tencent’s WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging app, on his smartphone. When he glances quickly to check the screen, he has “more than 17,000 unread messages.” The way we interact with information technology is broken, he says. “I don’t want to be captive for checking buzzes,” Gu says.
Gu is Baidu’s go-to engineer for designing better models of “human-computer interaction.” One example, DuLight, is an AI interface that helps blind or vision-impaired people. A camera mounted on a headset or a user’s phone can scan bills, train schedules, labels on boxes, or just about anything; the objects or words are then identified, using deep—learning algorithms and the processor on a mobile phone, and translated into speech that the user hears through an earpiece. “The facial recognition function is also getting really good,” says Gu.
Gu’s vision of the future is one in which people can enjoy the benefits of technology without being captive to cords and notification buzzes. “I want to bring humans back to an unplugged age,” he says.