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Digital Brain In Works At Qualcomm

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Aired 2/2/12

It sounds like something out of a "Frankenstein" remake, but Qualcomm engineers are developing a digital brain, CEO Paul Jacobs says.

Paul Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm, speaks at the Tech Policy Summit in Hollywood on March 26, 2008.
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Above: Paul Jacobs, the CEO of Qualcomm, speaks at the Tech Policy Summit in Hollywood on March 26, 2008.

A digital human brain? Sounds like something out of a 21st Century remake of "Frankenstein."

But that's happening at Qualcomm, said CEO Paul Jacobs. He described the process of discovery at today's President's Lecture Series on the SDSU campus.

"The team actually started out by building a retina and they came to me and said: 'Look, it responds to these optical illusions the same way a human does. They put another layer of cells behind that it started to find features, They put another layer, it started to find corners or oriented lines or something, another layer, it started to find patterns," Jacobs said.

"Today it tracks objects. It's actually not programmed, it's taught."

Jacobs laughed at the silence in the room, conceding he evokes images of "The Terminator."

But his emphasis was on helping humanity through what he calls "the digital sixth sense" -- merging the cyber and real worlds.

For healthcare, this would translate to devices like wristbands with sensors that monitor vital signs and transmit them to physicians.

A cross-section of business leaders, entrepreneurs and students attended the invitation-only event.

Cord Claffey, a finance major and President of the Associated Business Student Council, was one of eight students invited to a question and answer meeting with Jacobs prior to the speech.

Claffey said he was impressed with how passionate Jacobs is about his business. He was inspired by Jacobs' message to "take risks and never let anything hold you back."

The afternoon ended with a quick-fire from Coach Steve Fisher, who asked Jacobs a series of personal questions.

Jacobs said if he were to pursue another occupation, it would be fine art or architecture.

The best advice he received is that there is no "they."

His favorite word is "awesome," and his least favorite is "can't."

A secret about him is that when he was a kid, he and his friends put a local skateboard dealer out of business by asking their friends what kinds of boards they wanted, buying the parts from a distributor and assembling the boards themselves.

The book he's currently reading is by "11.22.63" by Stephen King.

Jacobs said the person who influenced him the most is his father, Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs, and his best college memory is of meeting his wife, Stacy.

Full disclosure: Qualcomm is a major contributor to KPBS.

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