Interview with Dr. Luc Julia, Légion D’honneur Recipient
Dr. Luc Julia is the Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for the Samsung Strategy and Innovation Center (SSIC) and the co-creator of Siri. Recently, in recognition of his work which has influenced the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), human-machine interactions, digital media but also other advanced technologies, he was honored with the greatest French distinction, the Légion D’honneur (Legion of Honor). Global Live sat down with Dr. Luc Julia to get his thoughts on getting recognized for his work, his advice for young innovators, his book on AI, and about his plans on what the future might bring.
Q: The Légion D’honneur (Legion of Honour) is France’s highest order of merit. And it comes just a few months after you were inducted into the Academy of Technology of France. What do these recognitions mean to you as a Frenchman?
A: No matter where I live or work, France will always be my home. It’s in my blood and bones – and perhaps, more obviously, my accent. Every time I open my mouth, I’m reminded of exactly who I am and where I come from. My love for France is why it was so important to me to bring Samsung’s AI Lab to Paris. It’s why I have personally invested in so many French tech startups and entrepreneurs.
I believe that France has a long tradition of inquiry and innovation – of a willingness to ask novel questions… to marry innovation and imagination… to dive into the dark unknown and follow where it leads. So, on the one hand, I am humbled by these honors because France has shaped the person I am. And on the other hand, I think the fact that France is recognizing my work shows how much our country values the future of innovation. I’m very excited to see what more we will do.
Q: One of the things you are most famous for is designing Siri, the first voice assistant that was really functional. Voice recognition was around before Siri, but your work helped turn the technology into something that could be used to assist people. So, what did you learn from that process, and what advice do you have for our young innovators working on the next big step forward?
A: When we were developing Siri, we hit a wall where users were struggling to interact with it. Human speech is full of subtleties – we don’t speak in full sentences or use literal meanings all the time. You don’t notice it until you start programming something to understand us. After trying again and again, our team realized that the problem wasn’t the programming, it was the programmers.
We brought in students of human nature – Hollywood screenwriters, storytellers, and psychologists. Their perspectives helped us create a more well-rounded voice assistant. One that accounts for the instincts of the mind, and helps users interact in a more authentic way. Here at Samsung, we have some of the most brilliant minds around. But no matter how smart you are, you won’t be able to solve every problem by yourself. We often need teams – but not just teams. We need true diversity of thought – people with different perspectives and life experiences who will help us see problems in different ways.
Q: You wrote a book called, “There is no such thing as Artificial Intelligence.” Now, I hope for the sake of your job, that’s not true. What do you mean by that and tell us about why you wrote this book?
A: Yes, obviously, AI does exist, but it isn’t “intelligent” in the way we are. I wrote this book because I’ve been frustrated over the years about our conversation around AI. Perhaps no other discipline has generated as much hype or existential dread. But while so many discuss and debate this technology, few understand it. Computers can learn – but they can’t create, discover, or innovate. They can’t imagine and find connections where there were once none. Only people can do that.
So, when we think about AI in the future, rather than be worried that robots will steal all of our jobs – or the other side, that they will solve all of our problems – we need to remember that AI is a tool. The point of technology is not to distance us from our humanity, but to bring us closer – to take away our mundane tasks so we can think harder, dream bigger, love deeper, and follow our curiosity wherever it leads.
Q: It’s been a hard year for people around the world fighting the pandemic, but the crisis has also presented us with opportunity as well. How are you approaching our work now and thinking about the future?
A: It has been so difficult, and people are feeling afraid for their families, jobs, and communities. But we’re also seeing a global digital transformation in industries that once seemed eternally stuck in analog. When I think about what we do here and about our future, I try to come at it with curiosity.
At uncertain times like this, we want to hold on to what we know – and that makes sense. Humans hate uncertainty. But we can’t move forward unless we are willing to dive into the terrifying unknown and learn what potential is there. So, for me, this time is about asking questions. What is this new world going to look like? How can we be a part of it? And what do we want to see in our future?