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My fondness for India

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Stuck on a rock slide
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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So then eventually after a few days... Of course we had no way of contacting the people at either end, so my parents knew there had been a hartal, they knew that we probably hadn't made it to Darjeeling. The people in Darjeeling knew that we hadn't shown up, they probably didn't know about the hartal. So we just disappeared for a few days but that was kind of normal in India. So eventually they... The hartal got over and the train started running again and we showed up in Darjeeling and went to the tea estate. And then had a wonderful time hiking around the tea estate where there were also tigers, and we really wanted to see a tiger. So we would go hiking.

And at one point we got on a hike that was sort of too long and we were worried it was getting dark. And... But we could see the tea estate. And so we decided to take a shortcut just to go straight toward it which was a big mistake. And it got steeper and steeper on the hills. And eventually it got so that we couldn't... You know, we let ourselves down, we couldn't go backwards, so we had to keep going. And eventually we got to this area of rock slide and when we tried to go across them the rocks started sliding.

So we got in the middle of a rock slide and whenever we moved the rocks would slide. And fortunately somebody saw us and we were really stuck. But they... A whole bunch of people came and they made this kind of human chain and they went and they very, very carefully walked across the rock slide, it would slide a little bit, and they got us and they pulled us off of it like, you know, people as the rocks slid away. So that was actually the closest we probably came to getting killed on that trip. And so we went back with a lot of exciting stories.

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: hartal, hiking, rock slide, human chain, rescue, trip, danger

Duration: 2 minutes, 7 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017