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Home / Features / Stuff interviews the man you didn’t know built all your tech

Stuff interviews the man you didn’t know built all your tech

We grab a moment with Sir Hossein Yassaie, CEO of Imagination Technologies – and one of tech’s biggest heroes

On a business park opposite King’s Langley railway station is a company called Imagination Technologies. Imagination ships more graphics processors than any company on the planet, its technology is present in more than half of the world’s smartphones, but you’ve probably never heard of it. And you’ll be forgiven for not having heard of its CEO, but without him most of your gadgets wouldn’t exist.

Sir Hossein Yassaie helped build the first digital TV chip in the 1980s, put a DAB radio in every home through Imagination’s product arm, Pure, and his company makes the graphics hardware in most of your gadgets. And that, he tells us, was just the beginning. 

I can still feel my first electric shock.

When I was a child growing up in Iran, we had this valve radio, a huge wooden box with cloth on the front and holes in the back where you could see the glowing valves inside. When I was about seven years old I opened the back, poked my hand in and got an electric shock that threw me several metres. I screamed, my mum ran in to see what the hell was going on, but I was smitten.

I began building things, like walkie-talkies and a completely hand-made film projector. But then I realised that actually what makes the difference in a device is the silicon, the underlying engines and chips that you can integrate into lots of different products.

I also had a hard time convincing people that mobile phones would need graphics chips.

Back in the 1990s, when mobiles hardly even had screens, I decided to begin creating graphics chips for them. I remember a CEO of a US company telling me “Hossein, you’re wasting your time, there’s just not enough pixels on a phone to need a graphics engine”, and I said: “teeth will be provided.” And look where we are today. Teeth most certainly were provided.

Light is the missing element in graphics.


There are billions of rays of light in a room. At Imagination we’re working on a technology called ray tracing, which models all those light rays so that shadows and reflections happen automatically. This will allow people to render amazing graphics – and I mean as good as Avatar – in real time and on low-power hardware.

So, you’ll soon have films and games with the graphics of Avatar, made by small studios on cheap computers. I think we’ll see the same revolution in graphics in the next few years that we’ve seen in video in the last few years, thanks to ray tracing. It could be the driving force behind the next YouTube-sized phenomenon.

Imagine that: gadgets that wouldn’t exist without Hossein

The iPhone 5 and Galaxy S4: just two examples at the top of a very long list of gadgets that use Imagination’s PowerVR graphics technology.

Every iPad and the PlayStation Vita: just in case we weren’t clear how important PowerVR graphics are to the gadgetsphere. It really is a very long list.

Every DAB radio: digital radios sold a few thousand units a year before Pure released the Evoke-1, the first to sell for under £100. They now sell in their tens of millions.

Don’t think that you have to be a pop star or a footballer or a banker to have lots of money, or to make a difference.

Sure, if you go into finance or banking you might get a good bonus this quarter or whatever, but you can actually do something in technology that will make a big difference to people’s lives. Technologists create things that shape the way things will happen in the future.

I went to an event recently at which one of the speakers claimed some children born now will live to be 200 years old.

I don’t know if that’s true but we do have an ageing population, and technology can help us adjust to that. We’re helping to make a skin patch that monitors people’s full ECG, breathing, temperature, stability, and so on. It’s in clinical trials at the moment, and it’s doing really well, because it allows people to be monitored at home as closely as they would in a hospital. When you have a shortage of hospital beds and funds, this kind of technology makes a great deal of sense.

You currently have a handful of internet-connected devices in your home. In a decade, it could be 10 to each room.

In a decade, it could be 10 to each room.
The objects around us will become ‘smart’, just as phones have – TVs are heading that way, and within a few years time people will have a completely different relationship with their TVs. But the smartness won’t stop there. We’re going to see a proliferation of clever, low-power wireless devices, whether they’re wearable or around the home, and they’ll make a huge difference to people’s lives.