Formus Labs’ AI Engineer Chris Rapson has a fascination for the future and he loves that his job gives him the opportunity to play a role in shaping it. Find out more about how his mahi is helping improve people’s quality of life.

I describe my role to non-engineers as… teaching a computer through trial and error – just like a baby learns to identify colours, shapes, words and concepts. Artificial intelligence and biological intelligence really have a lot in common!


Photo: Tim Hamilton/VisionWorks Photography

The part of my job that always surprises people is… how fast the technology is moving. Things that weren’t possible a few years ago don’t even raise an eyebrow anymore.

The best emoji to sum up me on a typical workday is…


The best thing I’ve introduced at my workplace is… bringing our AI up to state of the art. The accuracy more than doubled, running in less than half the time. That significantly improved the quality of the plans we were able to provide surgeons, going “from scan to plan in under an hour”.

In my role, I always challenge… what is the uncertainty on that prediction or measurement? Error bars might be small or large, but nothing is ever 100 percent precise, in any field from quantum physics to biology to marketing or project management. Understanding the uncertainty or the variance is often more powerful than the central tendency.

At work, I’ve never been afraid to… fail, both by taking on big challenges, and by realising early when something has been proved infeasible.

In the past year, I’ve pushed boundaries by… designing a new type of AI that a few people around the world are researching but nobody has managed to commercialise, yet. If we can crack it, it will save surgeons even more time, improve the patient experience, and open new markets for Formus.

I admire engineers who… foresee problems before they arise, especially in systems with many moving parts.

At school, teachers always described me as… curious.

My luckiest break was… many, from the supportive environment I grew up in, to being selected for an EU-sponsored master’s programme, to looking for a new career direction as AI was taking off.

The bravest thing I’ve done to get where I am today… was leaving behind an established position in a great team working on exciting developments for nuclear fusion. Initially trying to launch my own renewable energy venture, then taking a step down the career ladder while I started learning about AI from scratch.

Best career advice I’ve received… if you can find something you enjoy doing, you will be motivated to get better at it every day. Continuous improvement and lifelong learning make life interesting.

I’d advise other people interested in my type of role to… give it a go! Pick a problem that’s interesting to you, find a similar example using open source software, and tailor it to what you need. Start simple, don’t be afraid to ask for help and never stop learning.

3 things I love about my job:

  • Applying creative problem solving to challenges that are novel and haven’t been solved before.
  • Unambiguously working to improve people’s quality of life – hip replacements have been revolutionary in getting people up and moving again. Formus’ automated AI-driven patient-specific plans provide added value for surgeons and patients.
  • Working with a diverse, motivated, talented team of people.

2 reasons why I chose to study engineering:

  • After narrowing down my choice to medicine and engineering, I heard someone say that improvements in life expectancy are as much about frontline healthcare, as engineering advances. Sanitation was possibly the biggest single boost. Seatbelts, airbags and ABS save hundreds of lives every day, then there’s the technology used by medical professionals. I like how one small innovation can have wide-reaching consequences.
  • A fascination for the future and the opportunity to be a part of shaping it. Or in other words… figuring out that I could get paid to try and make sci-fi into reality.

1 thing I wouldn’t change about my workday

  • A balance between working with people (to understand problems, stimulate creative thinking, get feedback and exchange ideas) and getting stuck into some nitty gritty science.

This article was first published in the March 2024 issue of EG magazine.