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My clashes with Steve Jobs


In search of Steve Jobs's lost love
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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A few years later I went to France and I was at the Centre Mondial which is a whole other set of stories. And Steve showed up, and since I knew Steve I got the job of taking care of him, to show him around Paris. And when he had arrived, Steve, on the way over he had fallen in love with the model that had ridden next to him on the plane. And she hadn't actually given him her last name or her phone number but she had agreed to meet him the next day, and she didn't show up. So he was quite sure this was the love of his life. And so he was obsessed with re-finding her. And I had... I was working for a big French official who wanted to keep Steve happy. So Steve... So he said, 'Well, just do whatever he wants.' And I said, 'Well, he wants to find this person.' So he hired a private investigator to try to get the list and search for this model. So we spent days looking for this disappeared model who hadn't shown up for breakfast.

And that was... Nicholas Negroponte was running this group and so I was getting kind of tired of searching for Steve's model. And then we were also buying a present for Lisa, it was Steve's daughter. And so... although at the time he sort of didn't acknowledge that. And... but he was obsessed of finding the perfect present for her. So I did a lot of shopping with Steve around and he would almost buy something and then change his mind. And finally he found this beautiful glass horse. And so he brought out his American Express card to pay for it. And that was the days when American Express was doing this ad campaign where executives would say, 'You don't know who I am, but when I use my American Express, then it says I'm...' So he brought out his American Express, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers. I was thinking, 'Oh, this is going to be just like the ad.' And he brought out his card and put it down. And the card bounced. So that made Steve furious. So he yelled at them and made them call up banks and like, do you know who I am? And made a big enough fuss that they finally cleared the card. And so he was really upset about that. So Nicholas Negroponte decided to take us all out to dinner. And he had a little car, I don't remember what it was, but it was a hatchback.

And so we all crammed into the car and there were six of us. Like I forget who all was in. But Steve and I ended up going into the back, into the hatchback, so that we were like right up against the window. So we're driving through the streets of Paris, Steve obsessing about the woman that we couldn't find. And as we're driving there with our faces crammed up against the back of the car, this taxicab driver drives up behind us, and it's this beautiful Parisian woman is the taxicab driver. And she thinks it's funny that we're smashed into this car. And she smiles at us and waves at us. And all of a sudden, like, Steve has a new love. So he insists that Dmitri, who's Nicholas' son, take his card which says, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computers, and he writes his hotel number on the back of it. He's quite sure, of course, that she's winking at him. I think she's winking at me, but... So he writes his phone number on the back of the card and had Dmitri run around to the taxicab and give the card... And, you know, that was when he was over this other woman and never heard a thing about her again.

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: Steve Jobs, model, love, American Express, gift, Paris, business card, obsession, Nicholas Negroponte

Duration: 4 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 08 August 2017