Nest Labs Tech Chief Talks Robots and Tennis at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Dinner

When Yoky Matsuoka was a small child in Tokyo, she dreamed that one day she would be the next Serena Williams. But while she never made it to Wimbledon, Matsuoka’s pioneering work studying robotics and the human brain earned her the prestigious MacArthur “genius” fellowship.

Speaking at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech dinner in San Francisco on Wednesday, Matsuoka discussed her work in the red-hot field of artificial intelligence and her career at Apple (AAPL), Google’s (GOOGL) experimental research group, and Nest, the home technology arm of Google’s parent company.

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Matsuoka first became enamored with robotics when she attended the University of California at Berkeley. At the time she wanted to merge her love of tennis with robotics, and thought it would be cool to potentially build a tennis buddy “with legs and arms and eyes with computer vision” that could track a tennis ball and hit with her like a human.

But building such a robot is very complex. Even with the leaps in artificial intelligence technology in recent years, which has made advances like semi-autonomous driving possible, Matsuoka says that her tennis wonder robot is still 10 to 15 years away.

In the meantime, she’s concentrating on building cutting-edge products that impact people daily. At Nest, for example, she is working on more than just Internet-connected thermostats that adjust temperatures based on people’s habits.

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Matsuoka wants the company to build so-called smart appliances that use artificial intelligence “so the home is doing the work for you,” she explained. That would include, presumably, every home appliance you can think of—all sucking in data and learning your habits so that you don’t have to tell them what to do.


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