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My children's passions


The ultimate Amazon service story
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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The kids were always really very self-motivated. They were never bored, they were... they always wanted tools for presents, they were always building things. I remember once Asa... Asa in particular. Both Asa and Noah did this, but Asa in particular got... started making pens on a lathe, like turning wooden pens and started selling them and actually making a pretty good business in selling these beautiful, hand-crafted wooden pens. So they were very entrepreneurial, too. So he actually made way more than his allowance by building these pens. And then he got interested... he really wanted a jigsaw. And so Christmas was coming up, and so we said, 'Well, you know, wait until Christmas', and I ordered a jigsaw from Amazon, and Amazon accidentally shipped not a jigsaw, but a compound mitre saw. It's very rare. Only time I've ever had it happen, but the wrong saw showed up and it was just before Christmas. And I was really concerned about it, and I... but I saw... I called up Amazon and said, 'This is really important', and I sort of dropped Jeff's name and said, 'You know, I'm a friend of Jeff Bezos's, can you do...' I think I called his office. I didn't really call Jeff, but called his office and said, 'Is there any way you can get this expedited? You know, this is really important to him.' And then I didn't hear anything back, and then the next day the doorbell rang and Jeff Bezos actually showed up himself with the jigsaw. So that's my ultimate service story for Amazon, is Jeff delivering the jigsaw for Asa's Christmas present.

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: Jeff Bezos

Duration: 2 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017