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The boys' immunity to pain


My children – little builders
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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My kids were always builders and they were always kind of ingenious in the things they would construct, but they weren't always safe about it. I remember once we had this long, long stairway that was almost two storeys high, but it was a straight stairway at Toluca Lake, and Pati and I went off to some dinner party, and I don't know where the nanny was or whatever, but we came home and they had constructed this kind of slide down the stairway. They'd put blankets so that it was slippery. And they had put, in a cardboard box, India with a helmet on, and put padding around her with teddy bears and everything like that. And they were just to, like, do the great sled experiment of pushing India down the stairs. So we arrived just in time to stop that one. But they were always building things and actually it was kind of wonderful that very often for Christmas presents, they would give me things that they had constructed, and those were always my most precious Christmas presents.

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: building, constructing, children, slide, Christmas, gift

Duration: 1 minute, 24 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017