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Saved by an elephant
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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And when we got back to the village to pay him the amount that we had negotiated, Bruce had been in charge of like holding the packet which was our wallet and our passports and our travel... You had to have special travel permits because it was near the Chinese border, and all our money. And he had stuck it like under the belt that holds the elephant. And he'd lost it.

And by then it was dark and he tried to explain this but because we'd been arguing about seeing the tiger the guy thought that we wouldn't pay him because we didn't see a tiger. He didn't understand that we had lost it because we were like trying to go back and... And so he got really angry at us. And so it became sort of scary because he was yelling at us. And then the whole village sort of joined in. All the elephant drivers. And there were other people that came off the train. And then we had... There was somebody... There was nobody that spoke English and his language, but there was somebody who spoke his language and Oriya, and there was somebody who spoke Oriya and Bengali, and there was somebody who spoke Bengali and English. So through this chain of people we managed to communicate and straighten it out. And of course the whole village is involved in this discussion of what to do about it and so on.

So everybody decides that we have to go out and find the wallet, but it's dark now in this place where there's tigers. And this whole village has lots of elephants so everybody gets up, this whole train of elephants from the village gets up, and we all get on the backs of elephants. And of course there's no flashlights so we all make torches out of grass dipped in kerosene. And so we have this parade going off into the jungle of torch lights, this train of elephants going to look for our wallet in the dark in the jungle. And I still don't know what happened but somehow... I don't know if somebody saw it or if they just explained to the elephants that we were looking for it, but from my standpoint what happened was that at some point the elephant stopped and the elephant picked up the wallet and handed it back. And by some miracle... it had been in the area where the snake had gotten it, but by some miracle they found in the dark, with the torches, and the whole village was so happy and everybody was cheering and we went back and we paid our bill. Saved by the elephant. And I've always had a fondness for elephants, ever since that.

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: elephant, jungle, wallet, lost, miracle

Duration: 3 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017