Intel Labs Success Depends on Failing Fast

One on one with Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel Labs vice president Justin Rattner.

Intel Labs head Justin Rattner's TA Lakecia Gunter

"We look forward to the opportunity to develop technology and fail because that's how we become successful," said Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel CTO Justin Rattner.

The research that has made our modern high-tech world possible is strewn with forgotten inspirations and inventions that bombed. At Intel Labs, the inevitable flops are a vital part of a research process that uses failing fast, early and often as a means to drive innovation.

As technical assistant to Intel’s chief technology officer, Lakecia Gunter is on the frontlines of that innovation. Being the right arm to Justin Rattner, who also serves as vice president of Intel Labs, means she functions as a cross between a chief of staff and a press secretary. The technical assistant role at Intel has a long history, and several of the company’s top executives have been TAs on their way to the top, including Intel President Renée James and recently retired CEO and President Paul Otellini, who both served as TA to former CEO Andy Grove.

Gunter’s path to Rattner’s side includes the past five years at the company, most recently managing a validation team that worked on the fourth-generation Intel Core processor, codenamed “Haswell.” Intel was not her first experience in the semiconductor industry; she joined Motorola out of grad school at Georgia Tech, where she designed SoCs for the automotive industry. She also was a program manager and system engineer for the Department of Defense, where she worked on weapons systems.

Just prior to Research@Intel Day in San Francisco, where Intel Labs will demo a number of cutting-edge innovations, Gunter spoke about the burgeoning data economy, the opportunity for wearable computing and Intel Labs’ approach to research.

What are some of the big research themes for Intel Labs?

Big data is huge and it’s an exciting arena. How do we use this growing virtual world and derive value from those infinite data sources that are out there whether they be personal or public? We’re in this information age and it’s giving birth to a data society where there are tons and tons of data out there. But the question is, “How do we have that data collaborate, working together, providing those unique insights and value that really enhance our day-to-day lives?”

One of the technologies our researchers are working on is getting data to work for you. Let’s say you’re a runner. The sun is shining, it’s beautiful outside, but it’s a challenge for people who suffer from allergies. If you are allergic to, say, ash trees, and you want to run, how cool would it be to be able to, in real-time, have data that tells you the optimal route for you to run and avoid those ash trees? We’re working on that now with a pilot in the Portland area.

Day to day, how does Intel Labs work differently than other divisions of the company?

In a lot of ways it’s very similar. We’re trying to intercept the product roadmap, just like any other business unit. Our organization is set up in terms of how we do research. Half of our focus is on impacting the business units and the product roadmap directed, business unit-aligned research. The other 50 percent is exploratory research, looking a little bit further out, looking for those disruptive innovations that will really change the marketplace. We’re looking toward failing fast, failing early and failing often to make sure we can develop the right technology that will become a disruptive innovation of the future — something that will really be a game changer in the marketplace.

How does Intel Labs turn ideas into products?

Since 2006 Intel Labs has engaged in a practice called joint pathfinding. We work with the business units to develop technologies and fold them into a particular product. That joint pathfinding process is critical to make sure we can deliver exactly what the business units want and need for their product.

What is a product that’s available today that came from Intel Labs?

A lot of the things that you and I see every day have actually been invented at Intel Labs. Thunderbolt (the high-speed connection technology), started here in the Intel Labs with Light Peak. The Atom processor came from low-power architecture that was developed at Intel Labs. The Polaris and Single Chip Cloud Computer was foundational to the Xeon Phi processor. WiDi, virtualization, VPro … the list is expansive.

Lakecia Gunter technical assistant to Intel Labs head Justin Rattner

"A lot of the things that you and I see every day have actually been invented at Intel Labs," said Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel CTO Justin Rattner.

Where is Intel Labs on wearable technology?

Wearable computing is certainly going to be huge. We’ve seen Google Glass. I, myself, love my wearable technology. I have a FitBit that I use to track my exercise on a day-to-day basis. We can certainly expect that to be a viable industry long-term, and here at Intel one of our strengths is silicon and obviously we want to make sure our silicon platforms are supporting some of these new wearable form factors from a power-efficiency perspective.

What’s next out of Intel Labs?

We’re focused on so many things. Security is huge. We’re developing worry-free computing. Enabling you and me to be able to leverage any device platform and make sure that it’s a secure transaction from a cell phone to the cloud. Personalized computing, context-aware computing. We’re focused on creating devices that have the ability to know you as an individual — devices that anticipate your needs and really know you as a person to deliver information that helps us in our day-to-day life. How many times have you gone to an event and run into a guy you know you know and he’s walking toward you, and you say to yourself, “Gosh, if only I can remember his name.” How cool would the technology be that says, “That’s Bob” because it recognizes Bob’s face? That’s what we want to be able to do — to have that device really become a personal assistant that helps you in every aspect of your life. A lot of that is coming from the sensor technology that we developed here at Intel Labs. We really want to create the ultimate form of technology that just knows you and offers a complete, personal computing experience. I think personal computing, context-aware computing, is a game-changer.

Intel Labs Success Depends on Failing Fast

One on one with Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel Labs vice president Justin Rattner.

Intel Labs head Justin Rattner's TA Lakecia Gunter

"We look forward to the opportunity to develop technology and fail because that's how we become successful," said Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel CTO Justin Rattner.

The research that has made our modern high-tech world possible is strewn with forgotten inspirations and inventions that bombed. At Intel Labs, the inevitable flops are a vital part of a research process that uses failing fast, early and often as a means to drive innovation.

As technical assistant to Intel’s chief technology officer, Lakecia Gunter is on the frontlines of that innovation. Being the right arm to Justin Rattner, who also serves as vice president of Intel Labs, means she functions as a cross between a chief of staff and a press secretary. The technical assistant role at Intel has a long history, and several of the company’s top executives have been TAs on their way to the top, including Intel President Renée James and recently retired CEO and President Paul Otellini, who both served as TA to former CEO Andy Grove.

Gunter’s path to Rattner’s side includes the past five years at the company, most recently managing a validation team that worked on the fourth-generation Intel Core processor, codenamed “Haswell.” Intel was not her first experience in the semiconductor industry; she joined Motorola out of grad school at Georgia Tech, where she designed SoCs for the automotive industry. She also was a program manager and system engineer for the Department of Defense, where she worked on weapons systems.

Just prior to Research@Intel Day in San Francisco, where Intel Labs will demo a number of cutting-edge innovations, Gunter spoke about the burgeoning data economy, the opportunity for wearable computing and Intel Labs’ approach to research.

What are some of the big research themes for Intel Labs?

Big data is huge and it’s an exciting arena. How do we use this growing virtual world and derive value from those infinite data sources that are out there whether they be personal or public? We’re in this information age and it’s giving birth to a data society where there are tons and tons of data out there. But the question is, “How do we have that data collaborate, working together, providing those unique insights and value that really enhance our day-to-day lives?”

One of the technologies our researchers are working on is getting data to work for you. Let’s say you’re a runner. The sun is shining, it’s beautiful outside, but it’s a challenge for people who suffer from allergies. If you are allergic to, say, ash trees, and you want to run, how cool would it be to be able to, in real-time, have data that tells you the optimal route for you to run and avoid those ash trees? We’re working on that now with a pilot in the Portland area.

Day to day, how does Intel Labs work differently than other divisions of the company?

In a lot of ways it’s very similar. We’re trying to intercept the product roadmap, just like any other business unit. Our organization is set up in terms of how we do research. Half of our focus is on impacting the business units and the product roadmap directed, business unit-aligned research. The other 50 percent is exploratory research, looking a little bit further out, looking for those disruptive innovations that will really change the marketplace. We’re looking toward failing fast, failing early and failing often to make sure we can develop the right technology that will become a disruptive innovation of the future — something that will really be a game changer in the marketplace.

How does Intel Labs turn ideas into products?

Since 2006 Intel Labs has engaged in a practice called joint pathfinding. We work with the business units to develop technologies and fold them into a particular product. That joint pathfinding process is critical to make sure we can deliver exactly what the business units want and need for their product.

What is a product that’s available today that came from Intel Labs?

A lot of the things that you and I see every day have actually been invented at Intel Labs. Thunderbolt (the high-speed connection technology), started here in the Intel Labs with Light Peak. The Atom processor came from low-power architecture that was developed at Intel Labs. The Polaris and Single Chip Cloud Computer was foundational to the Xeon Phi processor. WiDi, virtualization, VPro … the list is expansive.

Lakecia Gunter technical assistant to Intel Labs head Justin Rattner

"A lot of the things that you and I see every day have actually been invented at Intel Labs," said Lakecia Gunter, technical assistant to Intel CTO Justin Rattner.

Where is Intel Labs on wearable technology?

Wearable computing is certainly going to be huge. We’ve seen Google Glass. I, myself, love my wearable technology. I have a FitBit that I use to track my exercise on a day-to-day basis. We can certainly expect that to be a viable industry long-term, and here at Intel one of our strengths is silicon and obviously we want to make sure our silicon platforms are supporting some of these new wearable form factors from a power-efficiency perspective.

What’s next out of Intel Labs?

We’re focused on so many things. Security is huge. We’re developing worry-free computing. Enabling you and me to be able to leverage any device platform and make sure that it’s a secure transaction from a cell phone to the cloud. Personalized computing, context-aware computing. We’re focused on creating devices that have the ability to know you as an individual — devices that anticipate your needs and really know you as a person to deliver information that helps us in our day-to-day life. How many times have you gone to an event and run into a guy you know you know and he’s walking toward you, and you say to yourself, “Gosh, if only I can remember his name.” How cool would the technology be that says, “That’s Bob” because it recognizes Bob’s face? That’s what we want to be able to do — to have that device really become a personal assistant that helps you in every aspect of your life. A lot of that is coming from the sensor technology that we developed here at Intel Labs. We really want to create the ultimate form of technology that just knows you and offers a complete, personal computing experience. I think personal computing, context-aware computing, is a game-changer.