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The Hillis Claim – my dinosaur
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I always wanted to find a dinosaur. This was a childhood dream, and Nathan Myhrvold actually funded Jack Horner to search for, I guess, for dinosaurs up in Hell Creek. And I went up to visit him with Nathan and I got to see some of the dinosaurs they were finding and sort of see how they found it in the rock. So I asked Jack if there were any areas where they hadn't looked yet. He said, 'Yes, but they're far away from the camp, and...' And I said, 'Okay, well, I want to go find one.' And he's like, 'Well, you know, it takes a lot of practice to find a dinosaur.' And I was like, 'No, I really want to find one.'

So I hiked out every day to these remote areas. I would find little chips of things and so on, but nothing much, and then I went way, way out one day, and I found a lot of dinosaur bones, like clearly a whole dinosaur. I was very excited, and I went back to Jack, and I was like, 'Hey, I found a dinosaur.' And he said, 'Oh, a lot of people think they find dinosaurs. It's usually just a cow or something like that.' And I was like, 'No, this is a real dinosaur.' He's like, 'Yes, well, it's really far away. I don't want to go out there to find a cow. It'll take us the whole day.' I was like, 'No, come on, you have to come.' So I finally convinced him to go out and hike with me and we went out there and we find it, and Jack says, 'Oh yes, this is a Triceratops. You actually found a Triceratops. That's pretty good.' He says, 'Since I'm the State Palaeontologist of Montana, I get to name every find. And since you found it, I'm going to name it Beginner's Luck.' So that kind of annoyed me. So I went back in and I searched until I found another dinosaur. So I found two Triceratopses. But then, actually years later, I ran into Jack and I said, 'You know, it always sort of bugged me that you named that Beginner's Luck.' And he said, 'Oh – he said – yes, that dinosaur. You know, there's a graduate student out working on that dinosaur.' He said, 'Unfortunately, it turned out Beginner's Luck was... that name was already taken, so we called it: The Hillis Claim.' He'd just been pulling my leg the whole time.

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: Hell Creek, Jack Horner

Duration: 2 minutes, 34 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017