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Radioactive skeleton in Marvin Minsky's closet


Al Gore, the 'Ozone Man'
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I'm really bad at recognising faces, and it gets me into trouble sometimes. But the biggest trouble it ever got me into, or the most embarrassing moment, was back during the Clinton/Gore administration. I was actually down at Disneyworld working for Disney, and I was walking along and this bunch of joggers came along. And the joggers… suddenly they all stopped, and the guy in the middle says, 'Danny, how are you?' But out of context, I had a lot of trouble recognising a face. And so I looked at him for a second and I finally said, 'Help me out here.' And he said, 'Oh, Al Gore, Vice President of the United States.' And that's how bad I am at recognising faces, but I've known Al for a long time, since he was a senator. And he really was the first person in the Senate that ever paid any attention to the Internet, and I remember sitting around talking with him about it. You know, he realised this was going to be important and nobody else did, and how to get people to pay attention to it.

But at that point, he had three things that he cared about that nobody paid attention, which was the Internet, the ozone hole and global warming. In fact, people used to call him 'Ozone Man'. But he really did do something about the ozone hole. And he really did do something about the Internet, even though he gets made fun of for taking credit for that. But he deserves credit for that. And he's certainly trying to do something about global warming, so it's interesting that he's been interested in those things for a very, very long time, and has been very consistent about it. You know, they're not just things he does because they're hot topics. He's been interested in them back before any of his constituents had ever heard of any of these issues. He also, by the way, is really good at skipping stones. He can make a stone skip five times. I can only do three.

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: Al Gore

Duration: 2 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017