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'I think I want to do what he does': Alan Kay


Calculators and computers are the future
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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My first electronic calculator I actually got right before I came to MIT, I got something called a 'Sinclair Scientific', which worked in scientific notation, that Clive Sinclair built. That was very exciting. It was a real scientific calculator. Terrible interface, but it was cheap. It was kind of a kit, I think, or something like that. I remember the first time I saw a calculator was when I was coming back from India. We went through Hong Kong and they had calculators made out of Nixie tubes, and I was just amazed by that. And that's what really inspired me to make a computer inside a suitcase. Then I would buy surplus Nixie tubes and, you know, try to figure out how to drive them with transistors. It was sort of a crazy project, but... but it suddenly all became possible to do around then. And then I got interested in a company called Wang, and I decided calculators were the way of the future, computers were the way of the future, and I took some of my paper route money and I bought a share of Wang stock, which tripled or quadrupled in value before I sold it. So that was my first investment.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes George Dyson

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: future, calculator, computer, Wang, money, investment, Clive Sinclair, Nixie tubes

Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017