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My life list: Learning new skills

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My life list: Build and create
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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So there's a category called 'Build and create'. So I've always wanted to make a lightning strike, for instance, cause a lightning strike to happen. I've never done that. And actually this is one that's getting close to getting done, but I've always wanted to build a new kind of telescope and actually I guess I'm very close to have done that. I've got a very cool new telescope design that is perfect for doing the thing that you really want to do with a telescope, which is show a child the stars, and show a child the planets, actually, the rings around Saturn and the moons of Jupiter. And actually, telescopes are terrible for that, because if you had it set up on that magnification and the eyepiece is so that you can see it, by the time you lift the child up, they jiggle the telescope and they can't see it. So I want the telescope that you can set up in the backyard and it's perfect for showing a child the rings of Saturn. And I think I've figured out how to do it and I've actually built a prototype, almost finished. So I'm looking forward to showing you that. I want to build a submarine one day. I've never synthesised a virus. I've always wanted to build a different kind of helicopter that has a counter-rotating... it doesn't have a tail.

And there are various... there's a lot of to build things. Those are fun things. I've sort of vicariously gotten to build a rocket through Jeff [Bezos] building a rocket, so that's not... that's on the list but, you know, I put that in the kind of halfway thing, since I didn't really get to do it, but I kind of got to be around it being done. I've built little bottle rockets, I suppose, but I'm talking about a real rocket.

Actually, this is a pretty long list of stuff that I wanted to build and a pretty long list of stuff that I built. You know, designing chips, building a robot dinosaur. Actually, yes, these are some of the most fun ones. Actual building. I love building things. One thing I realised about myself is I'm happiest when I'm building something.

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: building, lightning, telescope, virus, helicopter, rocket, bucket list

Duration: 2 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017