by Heather Mackey

Jen-Hsun Huang, NVIDIA’s co-founder and CEO, just wrapped up a thought-provoking discussion about the future of the computer industry and NVIDIA’s place in it. Billed as a “fireside chat” with Forbes national editor Quentin Hardy, the wide-ranging conversation covered everything from the fundamental changes in the computer industry, to skills needed by the next generation of entrepreneurs, to what products will be in demand for the holiday shopping season.

GTC 2010

Here are some highlights:

NVIDIA’s fundamental mission. “As opposed to other companies, whose mission was to build the fastest chip or most powerful workstation,” Jen-Hsun said, “our perspective was that our work was a medium for artistic expression of all kinds.” That expression could be video gaming – or it could be research. “Product comes and goes, but the fundamental purpose of our company should be everlasting.”

On the virtue of interdisciplinary skills. Sought-after new hires of the future won’t be just specialists. They’ll be wide-ranging experts. Jen-Hsun returned to this idea several times. In the interdisciplinary world, computation or IT is added to traditional fields, resulting in new growth areas, like bio-informatics. The intersection of disciplines is where “the interesting stuff is happening.” Following up on the importance of being able to move among various disciplines, he talked about his own journey from “narrow and deep” to something broader. “Training for CEOs is overrated. I’m sure there are companies – ours is among them –that have lost billions on the education of the CEO,” he quipped.

The disruption ahead. “Over the course of the next five years, we will see an enormous disruption in the industry,” he predicted. The same consumer activity – like, watching movies – will be fulfilled in different ways by different companies. People will have to ask themselves where they will buy computers – Best Buy? AT&T? Or a service provider? “Everything we know about the computer industry will change based on that answer,” Jen-Hsun said.

Surviving that disruption. Jen-Hsun talked about who will survive and thrive in the future. “Companies don’t go out of business because they run out of cash,” he said. “The reason most companies go out of business is they run out of ideas.” When the only constant in the business is change,” Jen-Hsun said, “you want people in your company who are comfortable operating in an environment of ambiguity.” Survival, he added, means being passionate about the mission and fellow team members.

NVIDIA’s focus for the future. Key focus areas for NVIDIA’s future will be visual, parallel, and mobile (not just low power, but also systems that have sensory systems attached to them, and are situationally aware). NVIDIA used to be fully focused on visual computing, but in recent years, its focus has shifted to the point where it’s two-thirds on parallel computing.

What’s hot for the holidays. Jen-Hsun predicted that Motorola, Samsung, and HTC would be “going nuts” trying to fill demand for a new category he called “superphones,” slightly larger than iPhones but smaller than a tablet. Tablets are already upending the PC industry. “They’re disrupting the marketplace faster than anybody thought. We need to get other tablets into the marketplace to fill niches and capabilities that the iPad doesn’t provide.”

His own technology preferences. “I carry a PC – and I’ve been carrying it around all week,” Jen-Hsun said, “but I haven’t booted it yet. The question of whether I should bring a PC is going to disappear in another year.” He held up a smartphone saying that it was a “foregone conclusion” that computing of that size was the future. Asked what was on his wish list, he wrapped up with the line that got the session’s biggest applause. “I’m dying to have a Tegra phone, a Tegra tablet, Tegra set top boxes. I want to have a Tegra home.”