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Flying out of Rwanda in a hail of bullets


Leaving Congo with my pet chameleon and a piece of lava
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I also... It's a little bit frightening because there was a war going on and there were several times where somebody would come driving down the dirt road, usually a Land Rover which was the preferred vehicle... We had a little VW Bug, a Beetle. But other people had Land Rovers. And they would come down and run into the house and talk to my parents and my parents would say, we have to evacuate, the soldiers are coming. And we would drive across the border to Rwanda, Burundi, sometimes all the way to Kenya, and wait it out. And then would come back after things were a little bit better.

And that just became kind of a habit. But my parents were very worried, they didn't tell us much about it. And then I remember the last time that it happened I kind of realised it was the last time. My parents I think were more frightened and they were like... I think they maybe told us just grab... Because they said, get in the car right away, and we had these little cardboard suitcases. And I remember looking around and realising this is probably the last time I was going to be in this beautiful place that I loved so much. And the place was near enough to these volcanoes in the Rwenzori that you could see the volcanoes glowing at night sometimes and there was lava all over the place. So I picked up a piece of lava off the driveway and I had a pet chameleon. And I picked up my pet chameleon and I got into the car with my chameleon and my lava. And my brother and sister got in the car, and I remember knowing like we were leaving forever. We had all these beautiful things that people had made for us in the jungle, all these toys and things like that, we just abandoned everything.

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: Congo

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017