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Richard Feynman – quartermaster for the stationery

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Richard Feynman and Thinking Machines
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Dick [Feynman], yes, I sort of kept up a casual friendship with him, and when his son went to MIT, I sort of made... got him as a UROP student along with people like Brewster Kahle and so on. I had my little team of undergraduates that I worked with. And so I kept up with Dick through that. And he was... And I would go visit him whenever he was in Caltech and in fact when I started Thinking Machines, I knew I was going to start it and I went by and visited him at Caltech to see if I could any Caltech students to come to Thinking Machines. And so this was before it had started. And... and I went out to lunch with him. We always had spaghetti for some reason. And we went to this Italian restaurant and had spaghetti and I told him about this company I wanted to start to make a massively parallel computer. And he said, 'That's the kookiest idea I've ever heard, you're nuts.' And I was like, 'Well, maybe so, but I want to do it, and I was hoping maybe you had a student that you could recommend that I could hire as a summer student.' And he said, 'No, that's just too wacky an idea for any student. You know, most of the Caltech students are much too sensible for this.' He says, 'There is this one guy I know who doesn't really know much about computers, but he's nuts enough to do this and he's actually pretty smart.' And I was like, 'Well, would you recommend him?' And he was like, 'Yeah, I would give him 100% recommendation.' And I was like, 'Okay, great, that's good enough for me. What's his name?' And he said, 'Richard Feynman.' That was... That was how I ended up hiring Richard Feynman as a summer student.

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: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

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: Thinking Machines, Richard Feynman

Duration: 2 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017