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AI and why I built the Connection Machine


The story of the Clock of the Long Now
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Probably the most important thing about the clock is actually not the physical thing itself, but the story of it. And I love it that already there's some confusion about the story. Some people hear it and don't think it's real, or they've heard about the one in Nevada and they're confused about the one in Texas, and they're not sure which one is real or... and so it had this kind of mythological character, and I like that about it. And that's... I ended up writing this book which is a bunch of reports of the clock, contradictory reports of the clock. And they're all things that I imagined the clock to be. And some of them I might build. Some of them I have built. And so I love the idea of the clock being a kind of idea that is somehow more than its instantiation in any physical thing. So it's like the Jewish idea of the temple. In some sense, it's more real because it's not there, and it has to have been built, it has to be real, but it has a reality that goes beyond its physical instantiation. And I'd like the clock to be that, too, because of course stories last longer than any physical thing that we can build. And ultimately, they're more important to us.

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: Clock of the Long Now

Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017