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In search of Steve Jobs's lost love


My first run-in with Steve Jobs
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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I kept working with Seymour [Papert] on Turtles. And Seymour tried to make... There was a company called General Turtle which Seymour had tried to start. And he was kind of a hopeless businessman. So I decided I could make these robot Turtles better so I started a company called Terrapin which made robot Turtles. So that was a fun thing and microprocessors were just starting to come out. And we had a computer language, we started making this logo computer language, Terrapin did. And I went out and there was a new magazine that started called Bite Magazine. And the editor was very excited about my Turtles and he said, 'You know, there's this guy making this little computer, you should go talk to him.'

So he set me up to go out to California to meet Steve Jobs and [Steve] Wozniak. And I really liked Wozniak but I thought Steve was a bit of a jerk. So I decided not to do anything with them. But then later Steve actually got kicked out of Apple later and he was really interested in making this other computer. But he literally wasn't allowed on the Apple campus. But he had a little group and I went out with Marvin to help him work on this little computer to get it to work, which was the Macintosh. And he was trying to design a custom chip for it. And it was behind schedule, and I knew how to design integrated circuits, I had designed chips. So he hired me to get the chip back on schedule. And I looked at the schedule and I listened to his release date and I said, 'You know, you will never get this chip done by the time you're expecting to release this. But you have this little 68,000 simulator, why don't you just use that as the product?' Which is actually what he eventually ended up doing, but at the time he really didn't like that answer and he got really angry at me. He's like, 'You're just not trying hard enough, you're...', you know? And I was like, 'No, it's not a matter of trying harder, you know, here's the schedule, you can't do it.' And he said, 'Well, if you're not going to do it to the schedule I need somebody who will.' And I finally said, 'Great, find somebody, and I quit.' And of course he didn't find anybody and he ended up doing what I suggested he had to. And that was the Macintosh.

But that was my first run-in with Steve Jobs. But we kept up. And we stayed acquaintances. I wouldn't say we were exactly friends but we respected each other.

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: Apple, Bite Magazine, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Seymour Papert

Duration: 3 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017