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Emiliano Miluzzo

Having grown up in Italy with a family of engineers, Emiliano Miluzzo was fascinated with the idea of building things and was inspired to make an impact through math and science.

Today, as an AT&T Labs researcher, Emiliano spends his time doing just that — inventing the next cloud technology and searching for cool new ways for people to interact with their devices.

By all measures, his goals are ambitious — he wants to "reach millions of people with something that hopefully will be remembered, like Neil Armstrong's footprint on the moon."

We recently met with Emiliano, and below is an excerpt from our discussion about his work, background and what brought him to AT&T Labs.

The way I get to a good idea is I go through a lot of bad ideas. I literally sit down with a piece of paper and I will sketch out 150 ideas for something. Sometimes the idea that’s good is number 80 on the list.

Tell us about the type of work you do at AT&T Labs?
I joined AT&T Research last year, and I research mobile and pervasive computing and powering mobile devices in such a way to provide new and interesting services to people as never done before. The way we do it is we bring together machine learning techniques, HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) components and mobile sensing to do something new.

Tell us about some of the projects you're working on.
One of the projects I am working on is a Virtual Companion. The idea is to build a proactive personal assistant that is able to assist us in many aspects of our daily lives. For example, instead of requesting information from your phone and getting a response back reactively, a virtual companion is proactively able to provide you suggestions in order to improve your life in many different dimensions like well-being, work, productivity, social and so on.

Can you tell us more about the AT&T Labs environment?
This is a great place to be because it carries on the Bell Labs' culture, where people are very open to collaboration. The way it works is very informal — we talk with each other and establish collaborations on projects on the fly. This is great because it brings together people with different backgrounds.

Tell us a little about your background and how it led you here.
I am from Italy, where I got my master's degree in electrical engineering. Then I gained some research experience working with a professor at Columbia University. After that, he was moving to Dartmouth College where he asked me to follow and join him in his new group, offering me a Ph.D. position. So I did a Ph.D. in computer science.

At that time we were focused on sensor networks, but when smartphones with powerful sensing and computation capabilities started coming out, we shifted our focus to mobile technology. So what we said was, let's apply this sensing technology to the mobile environment. That is where I started doing research in mobile and pervasive computing and mobile sensing.

The reason I came to AT&T Labs is because it's the best place to be as a Ph.D. student, as a computer scientist. I have always dreamt of working in a place like this because of the Bell Labs tradition and culture, where researchers here have been for almost a century, frontline in inventing the future. I am very proud to be here.

What inspired you to pursue computer science?
I think I always had a passion for programming and having impact on a large scale through software, which is something that in electrical engineering you do less. So I wanted to build something that could be rolled out pretty easily and accessible by thousands of people and millions of people very quickly.

Being at AT&T, a leader in technology, I will be given the opportunity to reach of millions of people with something that hopefully will be remembered, like Neil Armstrong's footprint on the moon.

As a kid, what captured your interest in STEM?
So when I was a kid, I was always inspired by my father and other family members who are engineers in different fields. I always liked and was fascinated by the idea of building things, so that was the driving force that led me into math and science, into an electrical engineering degree and a computer science degree afterwards.

What's a big goal for you professionally or personally?
My big goal professionally is to be able to reach millions of people at some point and have some impact. This is the reason I came here. Being at AT&T, a leader in technology, I will be given the opportunity to reach of millions of people with something that hopefully will be remembered, like Neil Armstrong's footprint on the moon.

How do you come up with new ideas?
I come up with new ideas by following my Ph.D. advisor's suggestion, which is "think big." Go beyond the comfort zone of your expertise because there is where you start sailing waters and start facing big problems. Usually big problems require hard thinking, but they are the ones that mostly offer the best rewards. So, I always advise new interns and new students — do not fear big problems, but tackle them because that's the most rewarding part.

Another technology I am exploring is called mobile cloud or m-cloud. The idea is to utilize the tremendous computing power in mobile devices, smartphones and tablets in order to form "clouds" on the fly as a way to explore local computation and reduce latency. This would provide a complementary, yet alternate, option to relying on remote cloud resources, and would enable people to complete tasks such as image and video processing very quickly, while also using less bandwidth.