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The birth of Asa and Noah

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Decision to adopt twins
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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From the time that I married Pati, we tried to have children, but Pati had had fertility problems, even in her previous marriage. And she had actually been one of the pioneers of trying to get in vitro fertilisation to work. And so we tried really hard to do in vitro fertilisation, really before many people had ever done it. And without success. She may hold the world's record for the number of times, I think. She maybe has done as many as 22 cycles of... retrieval cycles, which they wouldn't let you do these days. But the whole time we were doing this, I was like, 'Why don't we just adopt kids?' And Pati was like, 'No, let's try one more time, let's do it again.'

 And then one day we were sitting at a playground watching a bunch of kids play. And I said to her, I said, 'So which one of these kids would you be disappointed if you had adopted?' And Pati looked around, and then the next day, she went to the phonebook and found an adoption agency, said, 'Let's just go in and talk.' So she... actually, she didn't even tell me, she just went in and talked. She said, 'I went in and I talked to them, just to find out what the rules are, and it turns out that if you're going to adopt, you really need to get your name on a list. It takes a long time. And if we think we're ever going to adopt, we should do it now, because it takes years to go through it.' And I was, like, 'Okay, that's a good idea.' And we were about to go on vacation, she was, like, 'Well, let's hurry up and get all this done before we go.' So you have to get a police report and you have to fill out forms, and so we went through all of that. And we were about to leave on our vacation and we get a call, and they said, 'Oh, could you take...' and one of the things you did, too, is you made a book and the book was your life, and our life was, like, clowns riding around on fire engines and... you know, we sort of went all out to show our fun life with our dog and our house and all the fun trips we went on and we made a really fun-looking book. Which was true. It was, like, my amphibious car, for instance. Shots of us driving down the Charles in the car. And so we had a great book, but anyway, they called up, we handed in the book, we're packing to leave and they call up and they say, 'Could you take twins?' And we're like, 'Oh, did we forget to check that off as an option? It was, like, sure.' They were, like, 'No, we mean like right now.' We're like, 'What do you mean, right now?' And they said, well, your book was sitting on the desk when a mother came in that was really thinking that she wanted... she was wrestling with the idea of whether to put her kids up for adoption or not, because she was single and couldn't really handle it, and she saw this book. And she said, 'If my twins could be in that family, then I want to put them up for adoption.' And so she saw the match. And so that kind of... we went around all the lists and everything, and so we said, 'Well, how long do we have to think about this?' Because we had imagined... and they said, 'Oh, take your time. I mean, you have all afternoon.' So we cancelled our trip, just postponed the trip and we drove around and it really didn't take us that long. We realised it was just kind of meant to be, that this seemed right. And so we decided that we would adopt the twins. And then we went off on our vacation.

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: IVF, fertility, in vitro fertilisation, twins, children, adoption

Duration: 4 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017