Coffee Break with Steve Sasson

The inventor of the digital camera talks career advice, dinner parties, and the future of digital imaging.

If you were starting your career tomorrow, what would you do?
If starting out today, I would try to get more early business experience in launching a new product or starting a new enterprise. I'd seek broad exposure to what is required to get a new idea accepted into the marketplace and for it to be sustainable product offering. This would not only require technical exposure but also business, market, and vendor selection research as well as intellectual property activities.

Knowing what you do now, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t get discouraged by any failures you may experience in your early career. Learn from these failures and use them to fuel your next attempt. When in the early part of your career, you don’t have a reputation to protect, but many of those who judge you do have a reputation to guard. Ultimately that gives you a bit more freedom to deal with setbacks than those who evaluate you.

What is the biggest goal you are working to achieve now?
Trying to be a bit more well rounded in my knowledge of technology and how it affects us. I guess I’m trying to think a bit more about the “why” then the “how.” I’m also trying to see how the technical areas I’ve traditionally been involved with can affect other areas (i.e., social networks and bioscience and the human ethics associated with advances in these areas).

What technology, in photography or elsewhere, are you most excited about?
I’m most interested in how advances in photography and imaging are affecting our social structures and interactions. Can the AI examination of images bring about a more disciplined social network where what is communicated through images is based on reality rather than artificially constructed images (this applies to videos as well)? I’m also fascinated by where accurate facial recognition is taking us in the consumer space (iPhone x) and how it could lead to making remote interactions more secure.

If you could have dinner with anyone - dead or alive - who would it be and why?
After reading Walter Isaacson’s latest book on Leonardo Da Vinci, I guess it would be Da Vinci. His genius with image creation and his attempt to make still paintings come alive with a sense of motion (i.e., the Mona Lisa’s eyes follow you as you move in front of the painting) would be a fascinating topic to discuss with him. I wonder what he would think of the whole science of photography, would he like the accuracy it would bring to the reproduced image or would he be distressed about how it might remove some of the creative or imaginative elements he would put into a painting of the same scene. I suspect he thought more about the elements of imaging than anyone before or since.