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Thinking Machines' biggest liability


Richard Feynman – scholar and charming chauvinist
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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We had this wonderful house with people like... well, Dick Feynman would come, and Dick would explain to us about physics, but somehow he expected the women to bring him food, which even... it didn't matter if they were the engineers or the president of the company or, you know, he just sort of expected he would sit down and be brought food. And so... but they sort of did it willingly because he was so charming and told them such interesting stories. But I remember asking one engineer if it sort of bugged her that he expected her to get soup for him, and she said, 'Yes, it does kind of bug me. On the other hand, he's like the only person who's ever explained to me quantum chromodynamics as if I could understand it', so he's... there was kind of a contradiction there. So it was a pretty wonderful time and pretty magical, starting out in such a strange place in the middle of a forest.

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, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017