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The 'mini-sodas' night-time story

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Happy family life
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Noah was the one that was obsessed with vehicles, so he would do things like get blocks of wood so that he could operate the four-wheel-drive things in the vineyard before his feet could reach it. That was a constant, constant theme with him. So they've all gone into do things that are true to their original loves. And so that's pretty great to watch. I think they got some of the best characteristics of their mother and their engineering ideas from me, and it's a great combination. Fortunately Pati and I had a very happy marriage while they were growing up, and so they... we always had a happy home with lots of guests. In fact, I remember India asking at one point, 'Have we ever not had houseguests?' The answer was probably no. And we always had interesting people staying over and they always engaged with them and we always had animals around. We used to play a game when a new kid would come over: can you count the number of animals. And if they didn't find at least 30 then they weren't trying very hard. We had dogs and peacocks and ponies and alpacas and sheep and turtles. It went on and on. Parrots, cats, so it was a house full of animals. Guests would often wake up in the morning and find a freshly-laid egg in their bed. We had some very affectionate chickens. It was really a kind of paradise for the kids growing up, and it was wonderful having them there, being with them so much. And I was always kind of jealous of it, I wished I had been home schooled. They had wonderful teachers and they learned a lot from watching the Simpsons, which was fun, because we knew Matt Groening, too. So the Simpsons weren't just anonymous, but it would be funny, every time I would, like, try to tell them about some story in history or Greek myth or something, they're like, 'Oh, we already know that.' They'd learned it from the Simpsons.

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: family home, guests, family life, animals, Simpsons, home schooling

Duration: 2 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017