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Life with the twins

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The birth of Asa and Noah
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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We really... this was all very abstract still. We were still kind of getting used to the idea.

[Q] How old were the twins?

Well, no, they weren't born yet. The twins weren't born yet. And they weren't due to be born for a while, so we had some chance to think about it. So were up in Santa Fe, actually, and we got all of our ski clothes together and the ski resort was pretty far away in Santa Fe, so it's a big deal to get up there. And we got everything together and we got up to the top of the mountain, and before we started skiing, I just said, 'You know, what if we get a call from the adoption agency?' And Pati was, like, you know, 'The twins aren't going to be born for a long time.' And I was like, 'No, I just... I feel funny being out of contact.' And everybody thought I was crazy, but I went back down without even skiing, after going way up to the top of the mountain, and I walked in, and just as I walked in, the phone rang and it was the adoption agency. And the twins had been born prematurely. And I was totally excited, and they said that they were healthy and we should come up right away and we should think of what the names of them would be, and I was just so excited, and I hung up and then I was trying to get Pati up at the ski slope. But this was the days before cell phones, so I tried to get a message to the ski slope. And so it was hours and hours before she finally came back. And she came back and I was just so excited I was, like, 'The twins are born, the twins are born, we need to think up names for them.' And she said, 'Are they boys or girls or...' and I was, like, 'Oh, I forgot to ask.' I was just so excited I hadn't even thought of that.

So we called back and we found out they were boys, and they were, like, 'What are their names?' And we're like, 'Well, we need some time to think about this.' And they're like, 'No, we've got to write something on the birth certificate.' So we decided real quickly, we had a fast discussion and Pati wanted to name, well, I thought were so silly names, of like Atom Smasher and Edison Flash. I was, like, no, no, I mean, they can nicknames later. Let's name them good old-fashioned kind of names that sound right together. And so we named them Asa and Noah. And then... so it was Asa Gabriel and Noah Matthew. And so it was Asa and Noah.

And then we got on the plane and we flew up to Minnesota, which was where they were born. And we arrived at Minnesota and there was a blizzard going on, and we went out to this little hospital in the country and they came out and they brought out these little, tiny, tiny... I remember thinking they were the size of guinea pigs. They were about the size of... if you remember a Princess phone, they were that size. And they're handing them to me and I'm just shaking. And I said, 'How long will they have to stay in the hospital?' And they said, 'Oh, no, they're not staying in the hospital. Noah's going to stay overnight, but Asa can go home with you right now.' And I was, like, 'Well, home, we don't have a... we just flew in.' And they're like, oh, well, go and get a hotel room, get a nice warm... you just have to keep him warm. You know, you'll take care of him better... you know, you'll pay more attention than we will to them.

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: adoption, twins, premature, birth

Duration: 3 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017