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My trip to Papua New Guinea

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'Dependence' and Twist – American culture in Africa
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I think I was very lucky that I got to live at a time when the world was still not connected. And where you could eat different foods and see different things in different places that people really didn't know about each other. When I was in Africa the only thing they knew about Americans was the Twist. And when we would go into villages they would shout, 'Dependence, dependence.' Which was a sort of rallying cry from Congolese independence. But they sort of got it wrong, they called it 'dependence'. But that was a sort of a cheer that they said. I'm not sure they knew what it meant.

But then they would say... Then they would start dancing the Twist and they would say, 'Twistay, Twisday, les Americans.' But that was about all they knew about American culture was dependence and the Twist. And of course now you go places and, you know, everybody is aware of the same 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: Africa, America

Duration: 1 minute, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017