The Machine Learning Center at Georgia Tech (ML@GT) Speaker Series draws leading researchers from across academia and industry each semester to present on current topics in machine learning and artificial intelligence, applications for the technologies, and related insights and experiences. The popular series averages more than 100 attendees for each talk. This spring, ML@GT invited nine experts to campus.

Ashwin Swaminathan, a distinguished fellow, and manager at Magic Leap, and Prateek Singhal, lead computer vision engineer at Magic Leap, were a part of the series in spring 2019. Both are a part of the company’s computer vision group.

Magic Leap is the company behind the Augmented Reality (AR) headset Magic Leap One. Last year it began an exclusive partnership with AT&T and collaborated on content with the worldwide phenomenon Game of Thrones TV series. The startup also creates augmented reality for all sorts of purposes including education and entertainment.

While Swaminathan and Singhal were in Atlanta we had the opportunity to talk with them about life in the industry, misconceptions of Silicon Valley, and what’s next for AR and AI.

After earning your degree, why did you decide to go the industry route?

A: I actually wanted to go into academia originally but ended up finding a great team at Qualcomm Research. I worked there for seven years and it was a tough choice to leave, but I’ve found another wonderful team at Magic Leap. I’ve enjoyed my time in the industry and like that, I still get to interact with academia.

Prateek: When I was graduating, I felt like the industry was on the verge of something cool and that it would enable me to do work that would impact a lot of people. Academia is wonderful and allows people to do a lot of independent research. For me personally, I would prefer to work on a product that will impact a lot of people.

What are some of the projects you are currently working on?

A: In April, we launched a Game of Thrones experience called “The Dead Must Die” exclusively with AT&T. This was created in preparation for the final season of the show and gives people an AR experience with killing a White Walker. It’s always fun to combine work with something that that is as wildly popular as Game of Thrones.

P: Magic Leap has been working on a project called Mica, which is our version of a digital personal assistant. She is very realistic and is an assistant like nothing we have ever seen before.

What advice would you give to someone going into the tech field or to someone working on their Ph.D.? 

A: Shockingly, the work that you do in grad school matters and the skills you learn are very important. I know it can be a grind and easy to want to give up, but keep working hard. It will pay off in the end.

P: I would encourage people to try a lot of different things and take different types of courses. It all comes in handy and makes you a better employee and person if you don’t stick yourself into one box.

Who is someone that inspires you and why? 

A: I can’t pick just one. There are too many!

P: A nicer version of Steve Jobs. I love how he was able to revolutionize the whole world with simple design and techniques.

What is your favorite aspect or part of working in tech?

A: I love the people and my team. The tech space is actually very much a team environment and I enjoy collaborating with different people on projects.

P: It’s fast-paced and always changing. You get to be on the cusp of things that change lives every day. That’s pretty exciting to be a part of every day.

What’s a skill that they didn’t teach you in school that you’ve realized is very helpful or valuable in the real world.

A: Soft skills and people skills are so important. Make sure you get out of the lab, connect with people, practice your presentations to big and small groups, and healthily debate about the work.

My thought process also changed because of graduate school, so taking that way of thinking and applying it to real-world problems has been a challenge but also helpful.

P: You don’t learn a lot about how to navigate office dynamics in school, but it’s an important and challenging skill no matter where you work. Magic Leap is my first job since graduating and while I could do the job well technically, it took me a while to learn how to interact with my co-workers in a way that moved our mission forward in the best way possible.

What is a misconception that you think that people have about the tech industry?

A: It’s weird to me that people have this idea that people in Silicon Valley are rude. Everyone’s actually really nice. We’re all just busy and move at such a fast pace that we don’t have time for BS or small things because we are working on bigger things.

P: It’s definitely strange to me that the tech industry is often portrayed as people who don’t have social lives or just a bunch of nerds. We have lots of friends and do fun things that don’t involve a computer!

A lot of important problems that computing works on are best solved when it involves people with many different perspectives. Many of the best tech ideas come from large groups of people or a community, not just one person.

What is something that excites you about the future of AI?

P: I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the future our world looked a lot like Blade Runner. The idea of having autonomous cars and digital assistants that really help you is super exciting.

Ashwin, you hold a lot of patents. Any favorites or any that you are particularly proud of? 

A: It might be weird, but I’m actually more proud of my papers than I am of my patents. I’m especially proud of my first paper from graduate school because it’s the one that taught me how to write a paper and it’s actually the most cited paper I’ve ever written.

Prateek, you’re a Georgia Tech alumnus – any advice for current students? 

P: Georgia Tech is a great school that prepares its students well. If you do well at Tech, you will do well in life. Keep working hard and challenging yourself by taking a variety of courses and meeting people from across campus. And Go Jackets!

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