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The Manhattan Project and its influence on scientists


People who influenced my generation of scientists
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Getting to meet people like that was extraordinary. You know, people like Hans Bethe, I still remember him. These amazing sparkly blue eyes, and had... telling the wonderful story about him telling his wife that... showing his wife the stars and getting to tell her that he was the only one in the world that knew why they shine. So it was pretty extraordinary people around. I got to meet Stan Ulam very briefly. Didn't really know him, but he was still around then. Went out and visited him. But Metropolis was super-interested in the connection machine and really participated quite a lot in thinking about how to program it. And Dick Feynman got really interested and he had this crazy project which was to use quantum... basically use what we now call qubits to do quantum computing. So he was actually working on that project at Thinking Machines. Of course, it was before any of that stuff was really figured out how to work, but that was his secret project, was to make the quantum computer. So it... it was really a great blessing, I think, to be around all these amazing physicists. And that generation of physicists were very close to each other and tied together in an interesting way, I think partly because they'd all worked together at Los Alamos. Yes, so they were... they were kind of a society, they were kind of a community that were very tightly knit. So once you got to know a few of them, you sort of... became... you... I mean, I was always, you know, an observer, but I got to know an awful lot of them, and I always thought that was a great blessing. And of course Dick Feynman being the extreme version of that, and Philip Morrison also very important. Nick Metropolis was very important. And then later finding out that Kistiakowsky, who, you know, was my high school mentor, that he had been part of that. It's funny sort of how many of those people ended up influencing my life in various ways. But they really did set the tone for a generation of scientists.

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: Hans Bethe, Stan Ulam, Richard Feynman, Nicholas Metropolis, Philip Morrison, George Kristiakowsky

Duration: 2 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017