Scientist, Dr. Sadeg Faris TalkAsia Interview Transcript
Airdate: November 6th, 2004
LH: Lorraine Hahn
DF: Dr. Faris
Dr. Sadeg Faris
LH: This week on TalkAsia. A scientist and prolific inventor who's doing all he can to help others. This, is TalkAsia.
Welcome to TalkAsia. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Dr. Sadeg Faris is our guest this week. He may not be a household name. Nor are his products commercially viable yet. But what makes Doctor Faris stand out is what he has accomplished so far. And how he's sharing his success, with others. Since graduating from U-C Berkeley with a doctorate in engineering in the seventies, Dr. Faris has secured more than 200 patents, with more than another 200 pending. Some of his innovations were developed during his early days with I-B-M. But by 1991, Dr. Faris struck out on his own and founded Reveo Inc. Its mission: to invent, develop and market revolutionary, frontier technology that solves problems for humanity. Dr. Faris calls it: Invent-q-bation. Some of his innovative works include the first low-cost solution to sea water de-salination, virtual curtains, and innovative energy using non-flammable metal fuel. Today, he's transferring his knowledge and expertise to Malaysia. Reveo and the Malaysian government have created Inventqjaya, Malaysia's premier R & D center. Launched last October, the 25 million dollar initiative is part of the government's goal to achieve technology sovereignity by the year 2020.
I caught up with Dr. Faris recently at Invent-q-jaya's facility located in Cyberjaya. He showed me some of his various inventions including a method of generating energy from a simple piece of aluminum foil, based on his metal-fuel cell technology. I'll let Dr. Faris explain what that is exactly, rather than me! But first, I asked him how the relationship between Reveo and the Malaysian government, came about.
Dr. Mahathir visited New York on February 5, 2002. He admired the successes of the inventQbation results, and he said 'bring everything to Malaysia' and I said 'yes sir'. So that was the catalyst for the formation for InventQjaya. A leader who has been so inspiring, so sincere in helping this country and what he wanted me to do is consistent with our mission to help humanity, Malaysia's humanity, so why not come to Malaysia.
LH: What was the ultimate goal for inventQjaya?
DF: InventQjaya is to replicate the inventQbation business model in New York which is to invent new solutions to problems facing humanity especially problems that nobody else could solve.
LH: Such as?
DF: Water in the energy field, believe it or not in the housing. Is it possible to take a house and bring it down from 100,000 dollars and bring it down to 10,000 dollars, so that many people can afford it? That is an example of a problem facing humanity, and so how can you use technology to produce a house that you sell for 10,000 dollars or an automobile that you sell for 2,000 dollars so that humanity can afford. These are the kinds of problems that we look for.
LH: Surely there must be some sort of, I don't know, challenges like finding the right people, the talent pool
DF: Of course, that's why we are doing it. It's for the challenges in doing the things that nobody else can do. You need to have the courage, to have the vision, with clearly define a set of goals. And then you do whatever it takes to get there including finding the right talent, finding the right technology, to get there. Everybody talks microscopic, we talk macroscopic. Decide what it is you want to do and go get it. And that's the concept that we have.
LH: Now within a very short period of time, really, considering, you have come up with more than 200 patents, 200 different products (DF: yes) how do you do that? Are you just grinding them out?
DF: Not really, I just came back from Abu Dhabi and I came back with two inventions. How did they come about? Talking to people. My friends in the Gulf region told me we have a problem and we have this problem and that problem. It's really solving problems and if everyone of us, looks around we can discover problems and we can solve them. So everyone of us, including you Lorraine can be an inventor. (LH: I wish) yes all you have to do is just think for a day or two what problems are we facing that nobody else can solve, so you can be an inventor.
LH: Dr. Faris though of all the products that you have invented, how realistic are they in terms of being commercially viable and useful and practical and cheap.
DF: There is nothing that we embark upon that is not commercially viable -- Why? Because it is started by solving a problem that's facing humanity. Therefore it is market-driven. Now a lot of people are impatient, they don't know the process of inventing, developing and nurturing and then take it to the market. You know some technologies took 10-15 years to finally go to the marketplace and so I want to tell the world, be patient when you are dealing with frontier technologies. We are not in it to make a few dollars in the next year or two, we are in it to solve problems for humanity. It is a pact with humanity it is like a virtual contract. So we're not going to give up. And people are telling me why aren't you commercializing very quickly, and I'm like well give me a break, we've been at it for one year, we just barely put the infrastructure together and hire the people. So the idea is to teach the world, if they look around them, certain technologies took a long time -- patience. And those who abandon technologies, they shoot themselves in the foot, they never reap their rewards. And other people come along later on and they reap all the rewards. I'm not going to let that happen to us.
LH: So it's not a matter of chasing the clock just to get it out right?
DF: No, no, absolutely not.
LH: Dr Faris, how does one become a prolific inventor and this love of science that you have?
DF: Well Lorraine you can be an inventor -- number one, you must be curious, that is key. Number two, you must not be lazy, you can be curious and lazy and nothing will happen to you. You must have hard commitment, you must be driven by something beyond making a few bucks and so it is the desire. that is what engineers are all about, they have this yearning to do something that nobody else can do. Like artists, you know, many artists die poor, but all they are looking for is somebody to appreciate their art. But engineers are like that, they are artists -- they want to build the best, the cheapest, the highest performance and they want to climb the highest mountain just because of the challenge. This is an innate thing in human beings that they want to show that we can survive best. It's an instinct of all humans and in fact all living species.
LH: More on our conversation with Dr. Sadeg Faris, just ahead, including, his early childhood in Libya.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia and our conversation with scientist Dr. Sadeck Faris. He's the chairman and C-e-o of Inventqjaya, a joint venture between the Malaysian government and Dr. Faris's company Reveo. Together they developed Malaysia's first Metal-fuelled car. The team modified a conventional hybrid vehicle, by removing the original polluting petrol engine and replacing it with Malaysian made fuel generators. The M-e Victory went on to achieve a record 524 kilometer distance in one go, with no battery recharge. Seeing all his enthusiasm, I couldn't help but ask if he's always been interested in science.
DF: I broke everything around me when I was a young boy, and that's how it started. And you know you want.. you're curious about how, you know you get hurt and you get cut and all kinds of things and all that is programmed in your brain -- you just learn. But when you are curious, you are literally programming you brain, you have so many tricks in your brain, so when you face a problem, you have so many things you can retrieve from your huge archive system in your brain and you put these things together and it is amazing, you come up with solutions effortlessly if you are curious.
LH: So were you like that as a child? Did you do, play games or fiddle with gadgets?
DF: Well we couldn't afford toys, we had to make our own toys, that's how it started.
LH: Oh amazing
DF: So I grew up in Tripoli, Libya and from illiterate parents, very poor. And we weren't pampered and we were taught the lessons in survival.
LH: Like how?
DF: Well I was selling sardines. See I used to go to the port and clean the boats. Well these fisherman didn't have any money, so they gave me sardines. Well from every boat you collect a lot of sardines, so you have to turn that into money. So you have to go sell it door-to-door and make money -- eight years old. And that's how you went to the movies, your father didn't have spare cash to give you to go to the movies, that's how you did it.
LH: Amazing, what about your parents?
DF: Well my father died when I was 10 and then my mother stayed with my five sisters and I went to an orphanage and grew up at an orphanage at age 10. And my mother is still alive, she's 80 years old in Libya. The orphanage is the best thing that happened to me (LH: Really?) Yeah, so don't feel sorry for me. (LH: Oh I wasn't going to) Okay so it gave me independence. Actually they taught me music, trade, I was a carpenter, mechanic, I learned Italian and it just gave me the environment to be independent but also it gave me shelter, protective, virtual parents. The whole thing was fantastic for me. So one day I want to have purality of these orphanages for all people.
LH: Dr Faris, what brought you to the United States? I mean if you were poor and stuff did you have to...
DF: Well, from the orphanage, I excelled in academics and I scored number three in the high school exam of Libya and Exxon, the oil company, was called Esso Libya at the time, gave me a full scholarship, that's how I could afford the ticket to go to the United States, and I loved it. Great place, America gave you opportunities to learn, to start businesses, freedom and it is a great place to be.
LH: Which has been the most fun invention for you?
DF: It's like telling me which one of my four daughters is the best. I just told you that this one is the best but when the other ones are not listening. Actually I really believe taking metal fuel and using it for every endeavor of mankind could be the most important discovery. Now this metal fuel, when you consume it, it becomes oxide. But we invented a way, our subsidiary evionyx, invented a way to take this oxide and regenerated back into zinc metal fuel. Now this is equivalent to harvesting food for our power plant. See we have each one of us has a power plant, now we harvest that from the sun photosynthesis and oxides. Similarly, the invention that we have takes the sun and oxides of metals, with our invention, you extract metal fuel. Now this metal fuel, you harvest, you harvest for your car, for your home for your computer and all your appliances. So why are you spending money on hydrogen fuel cells and all of the other energy endeavors when it is so obvious to us, with very little investment, you will have everything you need from metal fuels. And one day people will listen. How do they listen? By showing not by talking.
LH: Why did you decide to leave IBM
DF: I tell you. IBM was the best environment to grow and flourish your ideas and after eight years I had everything that scientist really needed except the freedom to take products to market very quickly. So I came to the senior vice president of IBM who is in charge of research and he asked me 'Sadeg, we gave you everything, we just gave you this award, who is bothering you? You are a great scientist, why are you leaving us?' I said on the contrary, IBM is the best company and the reason I am leaving is to make one just like it (LH: laugh) So they couldn't argue with this argument and they asked me if there was anything they could do to help me facilitate the process and it was really fantastic.
LH: So why not work with them in inventions similar to what you have here instead having lets say the Malaysian government foot most of the bill?
DF: Well IBM is technologically sovereign. It has diverse technologies, I have my own ways - I want to do things much faster. Also it is Dr Mahathir who inspired me to come here. He is a rare individual if you look at the last few centuries, who is truly sincere about helping his country not about getting votes. And I saw his fire and his (LH: passion) passions and his sincere passion and its clear. I said how should I turn my back on this great man. Is it possible that in 10 years that Malaysia will close the gap to become a developed country? That determines destiny, science and technology? I am certain that it is possible and we will do whatever it takes to achieve that
LH: So you're not worried about competition coming from neighboring countries, India, Japan, Korea, China?
DF: No, India they are humanity also, they deserve to have technology, sovereignty and develop their nations social-economic conditions so that all humanity can enjoy a better quality of life, freedom, pursue their happiness.
LH: Up next on TalkAsia-Who is Dr. Faris's greatest inspiration. And what is his ultimate goal.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia and our conversation with scientist and innovator Dr. Sadeg Faris. His role model is one of history's most prolific inventors, American Thomas Edison. Doctor Faris says he finds inspiration in Edison's ability to develop inventions which are now essential to so many people. And that's what he's trying to do, with his company Reveo, and its joint venture with the Malaysian government. He shares with me how developing people is essential to coming up with new ideas.
DF: We have contests, we have about 100 people in InventQjaya Malaysia, we have an ongoing contest asking everybody to come up with a problem, to discover a problem that nobody else could solve. I want to get their minds to be problem solving minds, marketing minds and so 5,000 ringgits for the first prize, 2,500 ringgits for the second prize, and 1,000 ringgits for the third prize. I've had a few of these contests, and I am gratified when at least 25 percent of the people participated. So I want them to have the confidence, develop this curiosity that they don't need me to be here. I need to have a nucleus of great people, local people, who take this to the highest level and inspire future generations. So this is my proudest achievement, developing people.
LH: Will you ever return to Libya?
DF: Of course I will, never say never
LH: And help them? And help that country?
DF: Of course, yeah. You know I wanted to go back to Libya. To turn the desert into blooming area using the sun and the sand to create photo votallic cells and you know. But it was not possible at that time, it may be possible now.
LH: How do you hope to improve the lives of Malaysian people?
DF: Well through technology sovereignty, technology sovereignty means not only for the country as a whole, but if the corporations appreciate that technology sovereignty also applies to corporations and individuals applies to them. and this is why I am challenging out people in Malaysia to work on this contest, to appreciate technology sovereignty if they believe in themselves, and they have this confidence that they can do anything, then they are employable -- that's how you help people.
LH: We've heard about your goals as a scientist, and for InventQjaya, but I wanted to ask you about your ultimate goal as a person?
DF: Well to inspire as many people as possible. You know I talk about people a lot, and I was given the environment in the orphanage, so I want to create the environment for everybody to have a level playing field, encouragement. If there is any impact I can make to avoid bigotry against men, women, races, you know (LH: colour, culture, that sort of thing) colour, culture, etc... If I have an impact, I want to unify the world through science and technology and understanding. Something that is bothering me right now. There are many many nice people around the world, but they misunderstand each other and that is why we have these wars. That's why we have this terror. And they stereotype the Arabs and the Muslims, they are really nice peaceful people, but nobody understands, deeply what is bothering them So I want to promote understanding between all people and give people confidence to change the world for the better
LH: Dr. Sadeg Faris. An innovative scientist, who's doing all he can, to help others. And that is TalkAsia this week. Be sure to check out our website at cnn.com/talkasia for upcoming guests. And you can let us know who you'd like to see on the show. That address, email@example.com. Thank you very much for joining us. I'm Lorraine Hahn. Let's talk again next week.