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Mrs Wilner, our remarkable librarian

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Getting into arguments with the teacher
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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We had an election for class president. And when I won Mrs Hughes decided that a girl had to be class president and that we would have to rehold the election with only girls running. And she would do things like that to me constantly. It was so bad that actually one of the students, I later found out, withdrew from the school because she was so upset, she would go home and tell her parents the stories of how mean Mrs Hughes had been to me. And she actually went to a different school because of that. But I would get into a fight.

Finally my mother went in to the principal with me and Mrs Hughes and we had a meeting and the principal says, 'What seems to be the problem?' And I just waited for Mrs Hughes to say something, and she waited for me to say something, and my mother said, 'Well, they get into these arguments.' And the principal said, 'Well, for example, what?' 'Well, they were just arguing about tadpoles.' And I said, 'She says that tadpoles eat their tails. They don't eat their tails, they absorb their tails.' And Mrs Hughes says, 'Absorb means eat. And they consume.' I said, 'They consume their tails'. 'Consume means eat. It doesn't mean absorb, it means eat.' And we started like getting into this argument. And finally the principal said, 'I think I see the problem.' And of course Mrs Hughes was just wrong. That was the problem. So they moved me to a different class which was... That was the most terrible teacher I had.

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: election, fight, teacher, arguments, school, principal

Duration: 2 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017