At 32, Anthony Jules is in a position to consider his options. Wealthy enough to retire permanently, he recently walked away from a lucrative high-tech career to spend time snowboarding in the Sierras, advising small start-up companies, and reading things like Einstein’s theory of relativity and Darwin’s Origin of the Species.
Jules, a native of Trinidad, had a lot more than fun and relaxation in mind when he quit an eight-year career in Internet and computer consulting last summer. He needed to look squarely at his future, he says, and decide how he wanted to live the rest of his life. It was a challenge he could never tackle while working at Sapient Corporation — a job that took every moment of his time and every ounce of his strength. Now, he says, leisure time has allowed him to reconnect with many of his life-long dreams–dreams like starting a family, inventing amazing robots, and maybe even communicating with dolphins.
“Now that I have time off, I’m remembering so many things I’ve always wanted to do,” says Jules, who graduated from MIT in 1992 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. One of those things, he says, is deciding on some philanthropic goals focusig on children and on education — goals that already include MIT.
“MIT did a tremendous amount for me,” he says. “It was on my short list of places to thank.” Jules recently contributed $100,000 to name a squash court within the soon-to-be-built MIT Sports and Fitness Center because he sees athletics as an excellent complement to the intense academic atmosphere at MIT.
Jules says athletics is important because it builds confidence both on and off the sports field, which is why he decided to make the gift. “Physical confidence breeds confidence in other areas,” he says. “And that’s a vital component for people who will be leaders in the future.”
“I played squash all my years at MIT,” says Jules, noting it was an important part of his own experience at MIT. “Athletics builds character. Playing squash taught me to be comfortable with competing, comfortable with giving something absolutely my greatest effort. And that’s a wonderful gift — one that flows over into everything you do.”
Jules started at Sapient before he even graduated from MIT and moved up quickly as the company grew. “I started off as a programmer,” he says, adding that he soon advanced into system design, project management, and finally client development. “In 1995, I opened the San Francisco office,” he says. “I’ve always built things, and my experience at Sapient was building a company.”
Eventually, however, he realized that web sites and computer systems were not his life’s calling. Taking time off, he says, has allowed him to refocus on what he really wants to do in life. “One of the things on my list is having a family,” says Jules. “My baby sister was born when I was 13, and I had the wonderful experience of taking care of her. That was one of the best gifts my parents ever gave me.”
Jules also dreams of how he could use technology to change the world. He sees a future where intelligent machines — robots — could help humans with practically everything they do. “When I was young, I dreamt of a mechanical parrot that would sit on your shoulder and see the world as you saw it but also be your interface to the digital world,” he says.
As a student at MIT, Jules worked in the Media Lab and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he grew fascinated with projects to create intelligent machine assistants. “I envision a robot that gets its mobility and its goals from the person that it’s associated with,” says Jules. “It has senses, it has intelligence, and it can act independently based on what the human wants.”
Talking with dolphins
In addition to creating new kinds of intelligence, Jules dreams of connecting with the intelligence of other species. “My other crazy idea is trying to communicate with dolphins and whales,” he says. “They have as much brain mass as we do and very close to the same number of neurons. I think we might be able to make some progress there if we throw a huge amount of hardware at that problem.”
“If dolphins have language, my guess is it would be radically different from ours, because the main senses they use and the world they live in are so different,” says Jules. “That’s what makes it an interesting problem.”
Although he admits some of his ideas are far-fetched, Jules nevertheless takes his future very seriously. “Someone once asked me, ‘If you could do anything you wanted, what would it be?’ I realized I needed to answer that question,” he says, noting that exploring his future is sometimes a challenging task.
“It would have been really easy to have stayed at Sapient and never truly questioned myself. Now I’m looking at everything. I have this opportunity — I’d better do something with it.”