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Interview: Steve Wozniak

/ 21 May, 2015

Steve WozniakSteve Wozniak, inventor of the Apple I and Apple II, led the second day of the 2015 Gartner Symposium and ITXpo in Dubai with an onstage interview that covered self-driving cars, the relationship between man and machine, and the future in a technology-enabled world. Wozniak sat down with CNME Editor Annie Bricker post-keynote to discuss the past, present and future of the digital world.

How has your view on the concept of singularity – the idea that intelligence will become increasingly non-biological and that machines will begin to “think” like humans – changed over the years?

When I was first introduced to the concept of singularity I denied that it was possible. I said that we would never be able to make a human brain as we don’t know how the brain is wired. Then I was on a panel with Ray Kurzweil in Vienna. We discussed his methods on predicting, based on exponential curves such as Moore’s Law. These are accurate ways to predict the future – you don’t see the change until it happens. At first things change slowly, and then all of a sudden it happens. I became a believer then that machines would, in fact, achieve that level of consciousness. I fought the concept at first, but I eventually came around.

What are the signs that we are moving toward an era of singularity?

These days we have things like Siri and the Watson computer. There are synapse chips and self-learning neural network machines. Just by listening to us and speaking with us these things are learning a natural language over time in the same way a young baby does. This may be the way the brain actually works. We are still guessing and fumbling around when it comes to knowing how the brain functions, but every year I see signs that we are getting closer. I’ve mentioned a machine that learns to play games on its own. The fact that the machine isn’t taught the rules of the game but still learns is shocking. The knowledge doesn’t come from programming, it comes from looking at life and judging the way it works in the same way that we do. I think the machines of the future they are going to be learning as they go.

You’ve said that humans are the “house pets” in relation to technology – what will that relationship look like moving forward?

We are building all this great technology that helps us. For instance your smartphone is something that you love and helps you, but the technology makes me question if one day we will be the “Gods” or the “house pets.” What I mean is will it always help us because it admires us or will it simply take care of us. We might get our food, our clothing and our shelter from them. We may be taken care of, just like house pets. I don’t mean this in a bad way. The machines we are creating are made to do things for us – that is why we are creating them. The question is whether or not the machines will truly serve us forever. If they start thinking with independent thought, their main goal will probably become to build more machines and increase their own abilities to operate in their machine world. Eventually they may forget us. This is such a negative thought that I hope that they don’t get smarter than humans. But I don’t know, I’m not going to be alive when it happens. Machines still rely on humans very heavily – to make chips and mine ore and all the things that they need to function – it would take a long time replace all those functions.

You became involved in the Internet of Things early on in 2002. How has your vision changed since then?

When I first became involved with the Internet of Things I wasn’t thinking about it in generalised terms. I saw that we had embedded sensors in all kinds of things and devices, like microwave ovens, that were doing all sorts of little independent tasks. My device would be a tag that could find cars, briefcases, pets and other items that got lost. At the time it didn’t involve the Internet. It failed technically. Though we were coming up with clever ideas and approaches, we failed to meet our costs, size and power goals. Every day now I think what can be done to make our original dream possible.

What makes a “maker”? What do you look for in a person who has a vision?

A maker may not have ever been to university, and may not have a diploma. But what they have done is figured out what they need to do to realise their dreams. Those people are around, the trouble is finding them. You find a lot of young people with ideas, but they are all based on reading the same sources that we read. The maker is one that has actually created things on their own that are so unusual that you never would have thought a human being would build it.

How can companies support and use these makers?

The first thing for a company to do is to keep the income coming in. They need to hire regular engineers and people and keep the product and marketing strong. On the side, however, the CEO should have a little branch of people – makers – that they have encountered. They should be working on product ideas that may not have anything to do with the company’s original product now, but might be a whole new company in the future. The company has the tools and resources that builders need. The builders should be left to build whatever they want, and if the company sees something great, then they can own it, at least in part.

Which trend in technology are you most excited about?

Self-driving cars – which is really a type of artificial intelligence. Also, Oculus Rift and virtual reality are going to emotionally take us over when they become smoother. Right now they require high-level computers which is a big flaw. When the technology becomes portable and mobile it is going to affect people emotionally, whether it is for games or utility. It is going to be huge.