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Refusing a $6 million Russian bribe


Falling in love with a spy
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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One time a very beautiful woman showed up at the AI lab, visiting from Romania, and took quite a fancy to me. And started hanging out with me quite a lot and the relationship started to develop in interesting ways and we became great friends. And then eventually she says, 'I can't do this, I have to tell you what's going on.' I was, like, 'What?' And she's, like, 'Well, I'm a spy. I've been sent... I'm supposed to, like, get all these secrets from you, but I really like you and I can't do it and I like it here and I want to defect.' And she's like, but... she's like, 'My supervisor's coming and he wants to, like, know that I'm meeting you, so he wants to meet you. But I can't lie to you that he's just a spy. He's pretending to be a scientist, but I'm going to be in trouble if I don't introduce you, because he wants to see that I really have a relationship with you, and...' So I was saying, 'Okay, well, I'll meet him, that's great.' So he shows up and she introduces him, he says, 'Oh, I'm a scientist', and I'm like, 'Oh really, what kind of scientist you are?' And he says, 'Well, I'm really a theoretical physicist.' And I was, like, 'Oh, that's interesting. I used to be a theoretical physicist. What kind of theory do you do?' He's like, 'Well, really, it was more a mathematician.' I was, like, 'That's exactly what I was, really. What kind of math?' And I kept on doing this to him until he kind of got uncomfortable and went away. He clearly... whatever he tried to shift to, I claimed to be an expert at it. And so she eventually defected and became an American citizen and never went back. So that was my first experience with it.

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: spy, relationship, love

Duration: 2 minutes, 2 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017