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A Silicon Valley Polymath Returns to the Nest

Yoky Matsuoka is the veritable Renaissance woman of Silicon Valley. A onetime semi­ professional tennis player in her native Japan, she became a roboticist at Carnegie Mellon, a MacArthur Fellow “genius award” recipient, a founder of the Google X moonshot lab, and an early employee at Nest, the “smart” thermostat maker now owned by Google. She has also been on an unusual journey in recent years. She left Nest for Twitter, then went to
a startup of her own, and finally to Apple, where she worked briefly on a hush­hush health care project.

Tina Brown's 7th Annual Women In The World Summit - Day 2
Yoky Matsuoka.Jemal Countess — Getty Images
Jemal Countess — Getty Images

Now Matsuoka, who has been studying artificial intelligence (AI) her whole career, is back at Nest as its chief technology of­ficer. Her assignment: designing the com­pany’s product strat­egy. She isn’t saying what exactly that will be, but it’s certain to include a heavy dollop of AI. “We are finally at the point where we’re crossing over from academics and movie dreams to reality in people’s homes,” she says. Computer “vision” is a perfect example, she says. It has gone
from a lofty idea to cameras being embed­ded in everything from automobiles to drones to help with navigation, for example.

See more: Nest Is Turning Up the Security on Its Thermostats

Matsuoka will reflect on her di­verse interests and experiences at an April 6 dinner in San Francisco meant to kick around ideas for Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen in July. She has a keen sense of tim­ing. “I focused on the right thing at the right time,” she says, refer­ ring to her academic work on robotics and the like. Timing is, after all, everything.

A version of this article appears in the April 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Returning to the Nest.”