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How Jerry Lettvin talked me out of neurobiology

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MIT – the perfect place for me
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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And then I came up to MIT and that was an amazing moment. Have you ever...? In Alice in Wonderland... Not Alice in Wonderland, in the Wizard of Oz, there's this movie I finally got to see in colour. It all starts out in black and white. But when she opens the door in the land of Oz everything turns into Technicolor. That's what MIT was like for me. It was like it opened the door and I saw this whole other dimension to the world. I met all of these people who knew about everything and who were excited about ideas. And so the whole world kind of opened up for me amazingly. MIT was the perfect place for me.

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: Wizard of Oz, Massachussets Intitute of Technology

Duration: 55 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017