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My special friend, Johnny


Mrs Catherine – a teacher of wonderful misinformation
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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So I went to school, I was in second grade then. And I went to school with a teacher named Mrs Catherine who was full of all kinds of wonderful misinformation like if you breathe in really deeply every day you would live for ten years longer. Or she told us the story about the person... you could sometimes smell the paper mill in Bogalusa and she told us about... the story about the guy who fell into the vat of acid and they pulled him out and he was just a skeleton.

She was very nice, but she also said that... We had Cajuns around, and she explained that the Cajuns were one third Indian, one third black and one third French. And I remember thinking, I knew enough about genetics then, to try to figure out how you get a third out of halves. And calculating and sort of realising, it was my first... I guess I sort of figured out infinite series and I realised that no matter how many halves you took of something you could never get to a third. So there was no way that could be true, and trying to explain that to her and having her just be totally baffled.

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: school life, teacher, misinformation, Cajuns, genetics

Duration: 1 minute, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017