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An uncaring school principal

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Living across the road from a Yugoslav spy
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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And he would take us to school every day. And the school was the international school of Calcutta which is all the embassy children and the children of all the spies who were stationed in Calcutta. And so like right across from us lived a Yugoslavian spy who didn't talk to us. This was kind of during the Cold War. But then his daughter became sick and he came and he knocked on my father's door, and the first thing he said is he said, 'I am a Yugoslavian.' And my mother said, 'Well, come in.' You know, it was a very odd... It was like a confession. And then he said his daughter was sick, and so my father took his little black bag and came and then took care of his daughter. And then we became friends with his daughter, and it was considered... And we actually became good friends with them but those were in the days... Later, in fact, they came to visit us in the United States, and when they called up they said, 'It's okay, it's all right to report us to the police, that we're coming.' And we're like, 'Well, I don't think the police are going to be interested in a report that we have a Yugoslavian coming.' But they had a very different perspective on things.

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: spy, Yugoslav, Cold War

Duration: 1 minute, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017