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My 'pinch-to-zoom' invention


Seeing the future emerging from dreams
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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One of the wonderful things about Thinking Machines is that we actually got to talk with the people that were on the cutting edge of everything, so we got to see these new technologies come along that were going to be important, but nobody had heard of yet. Like I remember the first time I saw a CD, and bringing it home and saying, 'Look, this is going to replace'... I brought it home to Pati and said, 'This is going to replace your record collection.' And she's like, 'No, never. I'll never get rid of my records.'

But one of the things was, too, talking to the people at Motorola about their plans to have cell phones. And I went around all my friends and said, you know, 'You're going to be able to have portable telephones you'll be able to carry in your pocket and talk to anybody', and every single person I said that to said, 'Oh, I would never want that. Universally, the idea that people could call me any time they wanted and be...' So it was interesting seeing the future and seeing how much people didn't believe and accept it. And then a few years later, it would just happen. And even Moore's Law, which I had the chance to actually talk with Gordon Moore about, was just so implausible, even though we believed it. You know, the idea that we would have actual things in our pockets and on our laps that were faster than the fastest computers that we had now, was just kind of unbelievable. And that we could store a video in a little card, even though we knew it, we sort of didn't really quiet believe it. So it was kind of a glimpse of the future. That was a great opportunity, to see sort of how the future emerges from dreams, how very implausible dreams just become reality and taken for granted.

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: Gordon Moore

Duration: 2 minutes, 16 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017