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Wozniak talks: Self-driving cars, Apple Watch, and how AI will benefit humanity

Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak foresees a world far in the future controlled by artificial intelligence. This used to scare him, but after reasoning his way through it in a uniquely Woz way, he’s decided it will benefit humanity in the long run.

“They’re going to be smarter than us and if they’re smarter than us then they’ll realize they need us,” Wozniak told the audience of 2,500 people today at The Moody Theater in Austin, Texas, as part of the Freescale Technology Forum 2015, which runs June 22-25.

Wozniak said he used to lie awake and worry about the concept. But he finally realized, “It’s actually going to turn out really good for humans. And it will be hundreds of years down the stream before they’d even have the ability. They’ll be so smart by then that they’ll know they have to keep nature, and humans are part of nature. So I got over my fear that we’d be replaced by computers. They’re going to help us. We’re at least the gods originally.”

Before artificial intelligence could take over the world, everything would need to be controlled by computers, as is slowly happening via the Internet of Things (IoT), he pointed out. But this doesn’t meant that IoT is a bad thing, by any means.

“I want the Internet of Things. It does things for me. I don’t have to think. The Internet of Things, if it ever did want to take over the world, would send a message to the computers of today saying, ‘build us the Internet of Things, that’s what we need.’ It makes things nice for humans, so we want this. If it turned on us, it would surprise us. But we want to be the family pet and be taken care of all the time,” he said.

“I got this idea a few years ago and so I started feeding my dog filet steak and chicken every night because ‘do unto others,'” he quipped.

But how does Wozniak truly utilize IoT? For fun. “Right now I’m still at the stage where I can change it from my phone. I only do it to prank my life. ‘Let’s see, it’s 4 a.m. in the morning in California, I’ll honk the horn in the garage.'” He said that makes his wife wonder if the FedEx guy has shown up early on a Sunday morning. Or he uses it to turn the lights on and off via his phone and harass his wife.

Hewlett-Packard: The early years

Wozniak talked quite a bit about how he started innovating when he was an engineer at Hewlett-Packard. What originally triggered his desire to build a computer was to have one of his own to work on at Hewlett-Packard.

“I wanted my own computer so I wouldn’t have to share a computer with 48 other HP engineers. So I wanted it badly, and the only way I could do it was to build it myself. But I also wanted a useful computer that you could type programs into,” he said.

“All through high school and college days if I had computer problems, I’d go to sleep thinking about it hard and wake up thinking of solutions that were good or bad.”Steve Wozniak

At the time, he said, most computers were big, expensive boxes with a front panel and lights. “I realized I could never afford input/output, but I owned a television and I’d learned how to use an analog television in high school electronics. I lucked out because I’d already built some projects like that to get on the ARPANET. Six universities had computers on the ARPANET.”

So, he rigged up his TV at home with a keyboard. “Just because it was free. I had no money,” he said. He laughed as he recalled that back then, “a useful computer had to have 4K of RAM.”

His best ideas, such as adding color to a monitor, came because he was tired and his mind was wandering and he thought about how there was color in Atari’s arcade games. He had already worked with Steve Jobs on a small project and written “Breakout” for Atari. “I look back and think, ‘God almighty, if my mind hadn’t wandered …'” The resulting color monitor first appeared on the Apple II, which was the machine that started the personal computer movement, as noted previously on TechRepublic.

Letting your mind wander is one of the best ways to innovate, Wozniak said. “All through high school and college days if I had computer problems, I’d go to sleep thinking about it hard and wake up thinking of solutions that were good or bad.”

Oftentimes he’d forget his dreams, so, he said, “I started writing them down. I discovered sometimes the solutions you come up with dreaming are good. Sometimes they’re something you discarded before. The mind is always thinking all the time.”

“I was such a nerd I didn’t have a girlfriend or a wife so I had lots of free time,” he added.

He was able to spend a lot of time innovating because, he said, “Hewlett-Packard values in those days were unbelievable. We were making the tools that engineers need. Hewlett-Packard had a policy that you could have the parts out of the storeroom for something of your own design if your supervisor approved,” he said.

After work, he’d head home and heat up a TV dinner, then, he said, “I’d go back to the office and work on my own projects for fun.”

When Wozniak developed his first computer, he said, “I offered it to Hewlett-Packard first, and they turned me down five times for the personal computer.”

He said it was good that they did, because, if they had bought it, “they would have built a boring product for engineers. They wouldn’t have had color and animation and all that fun. Apple II made a huge change there.”

He said creating the computer was important to him because of the social change it could accomplish. He knew it was going to improve communication. “The thought you could type a message into a computer and people would read it an hour later… man, I was so turned on by this thought.”

He was showing off his new computer at the Homebrew Computer Club when his friend Jobs showed up. “I said, ‘you have to see this.’ He saw the crowd around me as I demonstrated it. That’s when he said, ‘we should start a computer company and sell your PC board. We’ll build it for $20 and sell it for $40. It wasn’t even a whole computer.” That would become the Apple I.

Starting without an exit plan

Wozniak talked about how Apple began. “Steve and I were really young. We were in our early 20s. We had no business courses. We had no money. We had a mentor [Mike Markkula] who owned a third of Apple stock. He said to start a technology company and told us what my role would be, what Steve’s role would be.”

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