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'I'm already hatched'

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My children's passions
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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They always built things, and Noah was particularly interested in vehicles. He would always try to drive vehicles and drive cars. In fact, he would sometimes convince his babysitters or teachers to let him... somehow he convinced one of his babysitters to let him drive around the neighbourhood in a car. Of course, that babysitter got fired, but he was obsessed with vehicles from the beginning. And then he started building vehicles, in particular trailers. That was a very early passion of his. He got an old Airstream trailer and he loved that from the beginning. Asa started with the pens and then he went to the jigsaw, then he went to furniture. And in the beginning, I would work with them in the wood shop just for fun, just trying to teach them safety. So for instance, one thing I did was I was trying to teach them how to use the table saw, teaching them about kickback, and I got a plank and I sort of deliberately lifted it up a little bit so it would have kickback, and sure enough, it grabbed the plank and it shot it back behind me. I was trying to teach them not to stand behind the plank. And it shot it back behind me, but it actually went through the door of the workshop and made this rectangle. So I never fixed it, I always just left it there as a sort of reminder of how like how dangerous a table saw can be. But they built things from the beginning, and of course rapidly became much better than I was, and then when they went to school and studied it, became even better. You know, they started building guitars and furniture and things like that, just things that I would never even imagine building. So it was extraordinary to watch them find that passion.

India was much more... you know, would have serial passions of... you know, she would do martial arts, she became like a great classical guitarist. But then she would just drop it. You know, she became a pony jumper, she came... she became such a good pony jumper that she actually was the backup pony champion for California, pony jumper. It drove her crazy that she didn't win. And she came so close. She was like one point off winning, and so she was about to double down on doing that, and I went for a long walk with her and I said, 'You know, you can do a lot of things. Just think if that's really what you want to do.' And she ended up going on to the next thing, going on to art school and then graphic arts, then design. And in everything she would pick, she would just be great at. I mean, I think you remember watching her the first time we were in Texas at Jeff's ranch, and him handing her a lasso and having her practice, and she just immediately so focused, did exactly the right thing, and operated that lasso. And that was kind of what India did: she just had a tremendous sense of focus, and she still does.

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: children, passion, art, pony jumping, workshop, cars

Duration: 3 minutes, 27 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017