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Openness versus privacy in modern society


My life list: Things that would matter over the long run
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I've actually got a list. My last category is: things that would matter over the long run. And most of these are undone. The one that's done is a shared database of everything. That's MetaWeb, that's the Google Knowledge Graph. So that one's in the done category. But the ones that I haven't done yet is build a clock that will last for 10,000 years, build a technology that will make groups of people smarter.

[Q] You did that.

Groups of people are usually not as smart as the smartest person in the group, certainly not as smart as the sum of the smartness. I don't know how to do that. Build a better way to choose treatments for cancer and other diseases before they happen. That would matter. Create a backup network for the Internet. I think that would matter. And the last one is build a machine that would be proud of me. So that's my life list.

[Q] That's an amazing list. What about reading all of Proust?

I never had the ambition to read any of Proust, much less all of Proust.

[Q] Proust, if you're listening...

I would like to read all of Shakespeare, though, I think.

[Q] Oh, you haven't done that?

I've never read all of Shakespeare, but I've been pretty impressed by what I have read.

[Q] I did that in my first winter in the treehouse, I read all of Shakespeare.

Really? Was it worth it?

[Q] It was definitely worth it.

Yes, I should probably add that to the list. Read all of Shakespeare.

[Q] And all Captain Cook's journals.

All what?

[Q] All Captain Cook's journals.


[Q] Put that on the list.

Okay, good. Yes, I'm open to additions.

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: Marcel Proust, William Shakespeare

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017