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Perils to survive: A car crash


My life list: Perils to survive
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I actually have another list, which is 'Perils to survive'. And these are not exactly things that I want to do, but are sort of ones that I want to have behind me. Like being divorced is on the list.

[Q] Appendicitis?

Yes. Or surviving a big earthquake is on the list. Those are my undone ones, but I've got a few, like a plane crash, which... although the plane crash is sort of in the halfway point. It's not really I want to be in a plane crash, but I'd like to have survived a plane crash, just to not worry about it anymore. The closest I came to a plane crash was a very strange thing. I actually got hurt in a plane crash, but I was on the ground. So I was flown... flew into St George, Utah in a Baron, which is a twin engine plane, and we were refuelling and I went over to look at the plane next to it, which was also a Baron. And you know how when you're in an airport and planes are coming down and it looks like they're going to land on you? So I looked up and I thought, 'That's funny, it's just amazing how they look like they're going to land on you.' And I realised: it is going to land on me! And I jumped as fast as I could, I didn't have time. I started to run away, but I realised I wouldn't get away fast enough, so I just jumped, because the wings were coming down. And it went right over me and it smashed into the plane that I looked at and it smashed into the next plane. It destroyed three planes. And I actually hurt my knee. It's been hurt ever since then. I was fine, all the planes were out of gas. It crashed because it was out of gas. So there was no flame, so I was very fortunate in that, but my knee has never been the same since. And it was a very strange feeling, because I was perfectly okay. I mean, the person who was flying the plane wasn't, but except for this minor knee injury. But somehow it felt like something big had happened and I should learn some big lesson from this, but I could never figure out what it was. And for a long time I just went around looking up a lot. You sort over-learn from a situation like that.

But yes, perils to survive are things like: getting lost in the wood, being robbed at gunpoint, breaking a limb, going through bankruptcy, surviving a tornado, getting sued, so... A lot of those are not so pleasant at the time, but they're good to have done.

[Q] You made it this far without being sued?

No, no, no, no. Those are in the done category. I've never lost a suit, but yes. No, those are all in the done. I went bankrupt. Of course, I didn't personally go bankrupt, but Thinking Machines went bankrupt. That's an experience to survive. Totalling a car. Actually, that's a... that was a strange story.

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: peril, plane crash, injury, knee, lawsuit, bankruptcy

Duration: 3 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017