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My first lesson in unfair trade

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The black and white childhood picture from Congo
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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Many years later when I was in my 50s and I was going through a divorce, going through counselling, one of the things the counsellor said was find a picture of yourself when you were a child. And so I wrote my parents and they sent me a picture of me in the Congo with my brother and sister. And I can see in the picture that I was very serious. And looked a little worried. And I... When I saw that picture I remembered how protective I felt of my brother and sister. That I felt somehow responsible for taking care of them. And that picture, you know, reminded me a lot of both the wonderfulness of it, but also the burden of it, which I had forgotten.

And the nice thing I was staying with Jeff Bezos and McKinsey Bezos and I showed them this black and white picture I'd taken. And talked to them about my childhood. And we put it down on the dining room table at their house. And that was years and years ago. And now every time I've visited them since then that picture always just has stayed in that spot. And it's not because they don't clean up their house, they just... So I've always thought that was sweet because it was a sense of connection of like who I am. And I think who I am got formed a lot there.

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: Congo, Jeff Bezos

Duration: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017