Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas flashed his geeky side during a panel about innovation and entrepreneurship at the Consumer Electronics Show on Tuesday in Las Vegas.
The singer, describing his approach to developing ideas for clients such as Intel and Coca-Cola as well as his own startups as a mix between anthropology and pop psychology, called himself a "pop-thropologist."
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"I like to go places to see what's happening. I like to feel what's happening. And then I go create," the singer and songwriter told a theater packed with thousands of consumer electronics professionals. "I like to go places and sponge everything up. I just sponged up this whole room!"
At last year's CES, Will.i.am shared the keynote stage with Intel's chief executive, Paul Otellini, as the chip company's director of creative innovation. At that event, he hyped Intel's Ultrabook laptop as his "ghetto-blaster." This year, he's more focused on his own endeavors - the i.am+ application and accessory that clips on to iPhones, turning it from an 8-megapixel camera into a 14-megapixel camera with an enhanced flash.
Will.i.am said he got the idea for his start-up during a professional photo shoot for the Black Eyed Peas last year. Of all the photos taken during the session, some with professional cameras that cost thousands of dollars, "the one that circled the world was taken with an iPhone." He said the idea germinated in May, and by the end of June, he created his first prototype. The device shipped in limited quantities in November.
Wearing his i.am+ device around his neck, the 37-year-old who grew up in East Los Angeles said that although "music saved my life," it will be science and engineering that will save "that little version of myself in the hood."
He also said he believed technology, which upended the music industry, will help revive it.
"People forget that the music business is technology," Will.i.am said. "You see the Grammys (logo)? That's an old iPhone. They called it a gramophone."
Mobile social technology in particular has transformed his career, he said. Before "we didn't know who our audience was," he said. "There were all these middlemen. Now we have this ability to have direct contact. Twitter changed my life."
The Grammy-winning artist says that he uses social feeds to check on the audience's mood before he goes on stage. After a set, he also checks Twitter feeds to see how well they liked the songs.
"We've never had that type of direct link" with fans before, he said.