Challenged acoustics inside Colorado’s newest conference center didn’t deter technology legend Steve Wozniak from passionately sharing why he distrusts artificial intelligence, ditched Facebook and wished Apple had moved a division to Colorado long ago.
The Apple cofounder was in town Thursday to keynote a business event capping off another year for the city of Aurora, home to the new 1,501-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center where the “Dawn of a New Aurora” event was held.
Wozniak, who was famously tossed from the University of Colorado in 1969, after his freshman year, said he’s returned to the state often. His children went to CU and in 1989, he received an honorary doctorate from the school. Post-college (he ended up graduating from University of California), he worked for Hewlett-Packard. He admired how the company had locations outside of Silicon Valley, including in Loveland, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.
“Many times when I worked at HP, I’d fly to a division in Colorado and see people thinking for themselves, and working for themselves and loving where they lived,” Wozniak said during an hour-long chat moderated by Matthew James Bailey, head of Arrow Electronics’ Smart Cities team.
“Here we were at Apple talking about building a big campus, Steve Jobs’ mantra. I was the only executive who was against a campus. I felt we should take individual projects and spin them out once they were big enough economically,” he said. “…What if Apple took its computer division away from the iPhone area and moved it to Colorado? Colorado would be a big choice for everyone. I’ve always wanted to live here.”
He lost that one. The new Apple Park campus opened in Cupertino, Calif., in 2017, about six years after Jobs, Apple’s other founder died. But things do change. Last month, Apple announced it would invest $1 billion to build a 133-acre campus in Austin, Texas. In the same announcement, it said it would expand in several other cities, including Boulder.
Wozniak sat onstage with Bailey in the Gaylord’s Colorado Ballroom. Bailey — a long-time admirer of “The Woz,” who left Apple in 1985 to enroll at Berkeley under the pseudonym Rocky Raccoon Clark — was smart enough to let Wozniak do his thing, which was to ramble on about his unexpected journey as an engineer turned reluctant entrepreneur.
That’s how the audience — at least those trying to listen over audible dinner chatter of other attendees — learned what Wozniak thinks about Facebook “likes” (“My little ‘like’ isn’t going to you, it’s only going to an advertiser,” he said) and why he ditched Facebook (“Every time I was standing in line somewhere, here I am just scrolling through Facebook that it became a habit. … After three months, I said ‘Wait, this is like addiction,’ and I’m against addictions so I just gave it up.”)
And he was happy to talk about Tesla, self-driving cars and artificial intelligence.
“It frightens me because these algorithms are never really that good. They make mistakes,” he said. “…The trouble is, AI is not real intelligence. I like to call it artificial influenza, or alien influenza. I believe in the A but not the I. I studied the brain a long time in my life, seriously as a psychology major in college. And we do not know how the brain is structured. We do not know how it works. You know, you can make a brain. I was at one company (where) the engineers did figure out how to make a brain, but it takes nine months.”
Lots of laughs on that one.
Wozniak seemed genuinely disappointed in Tesla and the promise of autonomous vehicles. He wanted to believe in self-driving cars, a technology Tesla is installing on all of its cars though the hardware is not completely in use.
“I kept upgrading (my Tesla) to get one with a camera and then one with eight cameras and finally I said it’s never going to happen,” he said. “I was falling for it and I believed in it. I wanted it, I wanted self driving. I wanted to be one of the first people in the world (with it). Trouble is, our cars aren’t on tracks, like trains. They’re meant to drive on roads that were built by humans. And anything done by humans is so unpredictable and random and scattered.”
As the story goes, Wozniak went to the same high school as Jobs, though at different times since Jobs was four years younger. The two met through mutual friends who also enjoyed electronics. It was Wozniak’s genius of building a computer game where a character was displayed on a color TV screen that sealed his fate. Wozniak eventually designed the Apple I and II computers, the latter of which provided “Apple’s only revenues for the first 10 years,” Wozniak said.
Despite leaving Apple six years after it was founded, Wozniak will always be known for his time at the company. According to his “About” page, he “loves children and dogs” and invests his time and money in education. That includes adopting the Los Gatos School District in California and serving on the board of the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, as well as many tech organizations. He’s also still on Apple’s payroll, according to a speech he gave last year.
His advice to entrepreneurs? Build things for yourself.
“I built the color game machine, the Apple II computer and Apple’s only revenues for the first 10 years. I built it for myself,” he said. “Steve Jobs and the iPhone. He made every little thing so perfect on it for himself, so it wouldn’t be clumsy and inefficient. He wasn’t a tech person. It had to be simple for a normal person.”
The two Steves made a good team, at least initially. Even as Jobs earned a reputation as a jerk, he knew what he wanted in Apple computers, software and business. Wozniak knew how to build and program computers and make the technology part work in Jobs design. But those rough early years taught Wozniak how to build — and maintain — a startup team.
He said it may take a psychologist to help assemble a crew, someone who can help put together the right personalities, rather than focusing on the right skill sets.
Keeping the team going, he said, sometimes requires a dose of humility.
“Look around for other ideas than your own. And if there’s an idea out there better than your own, be willing to acknowledge it,” he said. “Don’t make up stories because you’re fighting for your position in your company.”
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