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My interest in emergent phenomena


Thinking Machines' biggest liability
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Later, we got bigger and bigger and we ended up renting a huge amount of space down at Cambridge around Kendall Square. We were kind of the only thing down there, though. And in fact, when the company ran out of cash, the big liability that prevented us... made people like IBM afraid to buy us, was that we had a 30-year lease on 150,000 square feet of office space around Kendal Square at $30 a square foot. And so they multiplied out all those numbers and considered that, like, this huge liability that they didn't want to take on. Now, of course, you know, that lease alone would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars because that whole area exploded and now you can't begin to get space for anything like that cheap, and the 30 years still wouldn't be expired. So it would have been a goldmine if we kept that, but that the big liability on our sheet.

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: lease, liability, office space, goldmine

Duration: 1 minute, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017