The Chair­man of Asus has spent the last 20 years rev­o­lu­tion­is­ing the com­put­ing and smart­phone busi­ness, and is now look­ing to build the world’s first home robot com­pan­ion…

T3 - - Awards 2017 -

Don’t know the win­ner of our Life­time Achieve­ment award? You should. Asus Chair­man and Chief Brand­ing Of­fi­cer Jon­ney Shih is one of the most en­ter­tain­ing, en­thu­si­as­tic and down­right tire­less ex­ec­u­tives in the tech world, pump­ing out high-en­ergy pre­sen­ta­tions at trade shows packed with pos­i­tiv­ity and panache. But it’s not just his stage pres­ence that’s made Shih a leg­end; since join­ing the com­pany in 1994, he and his team have built Asus from a niche moth­er­board man­u­fac­turer into the fourth largest PC ven­dor in the world, a leader in home in­ter­net kit, and even a player in the smart­phone mar­ket.

Now Asus is look­ing for­ward and in a field that could push tech even fur­ther. For the T3 Awards, we caught up with Shih to talk ro­bots, AI, fu­ture-think­ing and build­ing a bril­liant brand.

T3: You seem to en­joy your­self when you give press con­fer­ences. You’re quite free.

Jon­ney Shih: Yeah, maybe be­cause of my pas­sion about tech­nol­ogy, about new prod­ucts. Even though I have been the chair­man of Asus for al­most three decades, I’m still an en­gi­neer deep down. Engi­neers are al­ways straight-talk­ing, right? I’m al­ways ex­cited about the break­throughs. So I think that’s why.

T3: What do you think most de­fines Asus as a brand?

JS: Asus is de­fined by our brand prom­ise, ‘in search of in­cred­i­ble’. You may think it’s a mar­ket­ing tagline, but to me I think each one of the words re­flects who I am and who Asus is. We are pas­sion­ate about tech­nol­ogy and driven by in­no­va­tion. We are al­ways in search of in­cred­i­ble ideas and ex­pe­ri­ences, and we as­pire to de­liver the in­cred­i­ble in ev­ery­thing we do.

T3: What are your key rules for suc­cess?

JS: Think through, and ex­e­cute thor­oughly. I’m an en­gi­neer, and this phi­los­o­phy comes from the engineering spirit. You have to know the the­ory, the com­put­ing ar­chi­tec­ture, you have to mas­ter both hard­ware and soft­ware. And I be­lieve you also need to de­liver the re­sults. So that’s why I have to ex­e­cute thor­oughly, and I try to ap­ply this phi­los­o­phy through man­age­ment to de­sign. A lot of peo­ple will talk about the prin­ci­ple to be per­sis­tent, to be gen­uine, to

be authen­tic. But if you think through, the rest fol­lows from that.

T3: If some­body was think­ing of set­ting up their own tech hard­ware brand, what ad­vice would you give them?

JS: Even if you’re try­ing to set up a brand, I think you have to fo­cus on in­no­va­tion and value in your tech­nol­ogy. You need to mas­ter soft­ware in or­der to be a good tech hard­ware brand, so for­get about pure hard­ware. We’ve been striv­ing for de­sign think­ing in our com­pany for more than 10 years al­ready. De­sign think­ing forces you to start from the consumer’s de­sire first, and only then do you con­sider the busi­ness vi­a­bil­ity, and even­tu­ally the tech­ni­cal fea­si­bil­ity. So there are a lot of dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters, from the emo­tional to the func­tional, and you need to trade them off to make the best com­bi­na­tion.

T3: What’s your favourite Asus prod­uct?

JS: Zenbo, our first home robot. We have a phi­los­o­phy we call the evolv­ing re­al­ity. It’s my am­bi­tion to be­come the com­pany that en­ables ro­botic com­put­ing for ev­ery house­hold. Some may think it’s far-fetched, but I beg to dif­fer. Ro­bots will rev­o­lu­tionise our def­i­ni­tion and per­cep­tion of com­put­ing. We all love our com­put­ers – imag­ine just how great it’ll be when it proac­tively comes to you and asks you your wishes. In the past two years, I’ve tried to drive this project.

T3: Is it a prob­lem that every­one sees ro­bots as a fic­tional, sci-fi thing?

JS: That’s ac­tu­ally why I have this am­bi­tion. Hu­mans have talked about ro­bots for such a long time since, I think, Descartes. And even to­day, the most in­tel­li­gent ones, maybe like the Asimo from Honda, are just for demon­stra­tion. We have to be very re­al­is­tic in or­der to re­ally pen­e­trate ev­ery house­hold. So we think the best de­sign think­ing is to make it cute, drive the best user ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s prac­ti­cal, and can be a home robot. That’s why I think it’s a sig­nif­i­cant prod­uct. And we’ve tried to price it from $599 – it’s a tough target. We have to cher­ish ev­ery cent we spend.

T3: Peo­ple talk to phones, speak­ers, things that don’t move. Is the robot the next evo­lu­tion of that?

JS: Our goal is to fur­ther ex­pand upon the func­tion­al­i­ties of to­day’s ma­chine-learn­ing-based AI. I think Zenbo can be two steps ahead of th­ese kinds of inan­i­mate ob­jects, with a mo­bile phys­i­cal body and also a per­son­al­ity. It’s de­signed to be a sweet lit­tle com­pan­ion, so his fa­cial ex­pres­sions and choice of words re­flect this per­sona. My 86-year-old mother is very at­tached to Zenbo, after spend­ing a few weeks with him. She even missed him when she went on va­ca­tion.

T3: Many peo­ple see AI as the great­est threat po­ten­tially fac­ing hu­man­ity. Do you have any wor­ries about it?

JS: Ac­tu­ally, no. To­day’s AI tech­nol­ogy is still built upon ma­chine-learn­ing, nar­row AI. Only gen­eral AI can po­ten­tially be­come a threat to hu­mans, but we are still a long way from that. Ac­cord­ing to the Cyc project, it will take around 100 years to es­tab­lish an AI with com­mon sense. The real AI achieve­ments so far are still worse than a cock­roach, and it’s very dif­fi­cult to achieve even that kind of level. So I’m not that wor­ried, frankly speak­ing. If some­one tries to de­velop some­thing to hurt a hu­man be­ing, it’s like a bomb. We should take the same ap­proach as we would to pre­vent that hap­pen­ing, to stop those sci­en­tists, those de­vel­op­ers.

T3: Do you have any other pre­dic­tions for how the tech world might look in an­other 10 years’ time?

JS: In 10 years I think it will be very dif­fer­ent. Ev­ery­thing will be on­line, and that’s very im­por­tant, a new era. In­for­ma­tion will be like to­day’s elec­tric­ity, which pow­ers ev­ery­thing. Our learn­ing, our work, our play, our buy­ing. And I think ev­ery in­dus­try will be very dif­fer­ent. The whole-world econ­omy ecosys­tem will be­come a kind of consumer-cen­tric con­nected value net­work, a gen­uine dig­i­tal econ­omy. Be­fore, in­dus­try guessed the de­mand, so you’ve al­ways got that long tail ef­fect, in­ven­tory prob­lems. But in 10 years, ev­ery­thing starts from the consumer.

T3: Can the lap­top still im­prove?

JS: Maybe not big leaps for­ward, be­cause it’s al­ready quite a ma­ture prod­uct. But even to­day, peo­ple can’t live without their smart­phones. And I think peo­ple also can­not live without their lap­tops. For pro­fes­sional com­put­ing you need to have a lap­top, you need to have a big­ger screen. The evo­lu­tion for lap­tops will con­tinue. But that’s evo­lu­tion, not a big leap for­wards. It will still fo­cus on de­sign, mo­bil­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity.

T3: Is there any Asus prod­uct you feel was un­der­rated?

JS: The PadFone. It was a prod­uct that was ahead of its time. Even to­day the PadFone is a per­fect phone. We care a lot about our eyes, or our kids’ eyes, right? Phone screens are too small. I think that’s a per­fect so­lu­tion, a smart­phone big enough to cover the tablet func­tion. It came out around 2011, and I think in to­day’s mar­ket it would be more suit­able.

“It’s my am­bi­tion for Asus to be­come the com­pany that en­ables ro­botic com­put­ing for ev­ery house­hold. We all love com­put­ers so imag­ine just how great it will be when it comes to you and asks you your wishes”

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