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My 'tour' of Imagineering at Disney

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Why I don't believe in cause and effect
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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You could build a different kind of computer that didn't have that kind of one-way flow of information and had much more connected emergent phenomena, but we wouldn't know how to build such a thing because that's not how we think. So we think in terms of these stories, so we sort of have to implement stories. So it sounds sort of radical, but I actually don't really believe in cause and effect, that that's a fundamental building block of the universe. I believe in it as a construct that we've created to understand the universe and to build things in the universe. And of course it's very useful in things like social interactions, where we can have like systems of law that assume that there's an agent that caused this and had this effect, and there's a storytelling technique that's very important for organising society, that we all use that storytelling technique so that we can assign blame to things and so on. But it's not really how physics works. It's not really how the universe works.

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: cause, effect, storytelling, universe, law, society

Duration: 1 minute, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017