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Neurobiology and fast computing


Richard Feynman – quartermaster for the stationery
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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We started the company that spring and at the first day of summer the company started and we had raised all our money and everything. And I hadn't really thought much about what we would do, and on the first day he showed up and saluted and said, 'Richard Feynman, reporting for duty, sir. What's my assignment?' And I said, 'Hmm, give me a minute here', and I went back to think about it and thought, 'Okay, how about using the connection machine to compute quantum electrodynamics?' And so I went back and – rare quantum chromodynamics, actually, which was a brilliant computational problem – and so I went to him and said, 'Well, can you figure out how to use parallel computing to compute quantum chromodynamics?' And he said, 'That's really the thing you want done on the first day of the company?' He said, 'Come on, what do you really need done?' And I said, 'Well, actually, we don't have any stationery.' And he's like, 'Great, I'll be in charge of getting pencils and pads.' So he went off to the stationery store and got all of the stationery. That was his first assignment. He was quartermaster for the stationery. And he did a good job of it.

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: Richard Feynman

Duration: 1 minute, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017