Three Minutes With Steve Wozniak
Steve Wozniak isn't perhaps as well known as his Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, but "Woz" invented the Apple I in 1976 and the Apple II in 1977, which was one of the best-selling PCs of that time. In this interview, Wozniak, who turns 57 on August 11, talks about how he met Jobs, his most cherished inventions, and why he believes thinking robots and artificial intelligence will never happen.
IDG: You said in your autobiography that you and Steve Jobs had complementary personalities. While you were the technical mind, he got the business vision; while you were shy he was extroverted. When and how did you first meet?
Wozniak: We first met during my college years, while he was in high school. It was 1971 when a friend said, you should meet Steve Jobs, because he likes electronics and he also plays pranks. So he introduced us. We both loved electronics and the way we used to hook up digital chips. Very few people, especially back then, had any idea what chips were, how they worked and what they could do. I had designed many computers so I was way ahead of him in electronics and computer design, but we still had common interests. We both had pretty much sort of an independent attitude about things in the world, we were both smart enough to think things up for ourselves and not have followed the common disregard of the day, like counterculture. Steve was more a part of the counterculture thinking and I was really disclosed to it.
IDG: Are you still friends? Do you meet him regularly and still exchange opinions about technology?
Wozniak: Yes, we're still friends. We talk regularly but not much about things related to technology anymore.
IDG: Why did you quit Apple?
Wozniak: Being the sort of designer I was, I was designing things all on my own, working alone, and now the company grew to a point that it had organized engineering departments. I could still hang around and do any project I felt like, but I wanted to do real things with people in order to change the world and bring new products. So I didn't leave Apple. I just went to start other companies, and I stayed in Apple as an employee. I never left being employed at Apple. Up to this day I still get a small paycheck to settle royalties.
IDG: Do you think Apple was right by not licensing the Macintosh operating system?
Wozniak: That's very hard to say even now. Consider the iPod, what it means to Apple even in terms of money. To make Apple such a great company in the computer field we also had to consider a lot of things. If Apple had licensed the operating system would we still be as large and as good creating such great products? You can never look back and decide how the future would have turned out for Apple ... A lot of our biggest assets are customer loyalty and a lot of customer loyalty comes from people who believe in what Apple was, partly because it was the company that made the whole thing, the operating system, the hardware, the application, services . . . It's the greatness of products that come through when we get control over all the aspects of the computer.
IDG: Do you think the PC era is over?
Wozniak: Well, that's a good question. A lot of people could sprout out random ideas. Basically, if you're a human being, you want to get some things done in the world for some reason. If you want some financial analysis for your company, what are you going to do? One thing you could do is look for information on the Web using your computer. Are we going to use our voices, are we going to use our minds to communicate instead of the computer? My answer is: I don't think so. Computers have a keyboard input for you to write down your message to get the computer to work. And the keyboard is operated by the fingers. Why would that change?
Now, apart from the fact that you can instantly look up some information and grab it for everyone in the world that wants it through the Internet, the computer is just the versatile tool that really gives the human beings an interface to that world. But the computer has other purposes now. It is storage for more things, like music, photographs, home videos, e-mail. The computer is so important and you just can't see those things going away. You could see a few things like applications being used on the Web, using Google Calendar instead of the iCalendar software for Macintosh. You could see people using different applications, but pretty much doing the same thing on their keyboard.
Will the personal computer go away? ... As long as you have a computer, it's going to be the most efficient access to the world. When you get to the point where everything is on the Web, including applications, then you can use anybody's computer anywhere. But you just can't do them all on your phone.
IDG: In your autobiography, you describe yourself as an engineer and an inventor. Which are your most recent inventions?
Wozniak: My most recent invention is a Segway key programmer. It's for the Segway, which is a two-wheel, self-balancing transportation device. It is a small project, but I did it to the standards that I always employed in the old days. I had a startup company a few years ago that developed a GPS tracking system. I had developed a remote control way back in the late '80s that was the first universal remote control.
IDG: Which are your most cherished inventions, Apple I and Apple II?
Wozniak: The one that I loved the most among my designs is the Segway key program, believe it or not. The floppy disk drive for the Apple II, also. I did it incredibly quickly, incredibly differently than anyone had ever done it before. I just made it as perfect as it could be. The Apple II was probably my greatest invention. I came up with a lot of very strange ideas of how to do things that were very complicated, but to do them very simply with very low cost and all in one computer. So many things in one computer that nobody ever expected, it set the tone for what a personal computer would be forever. That's probably my greatest invention. Along with Apple I, it changed the world of computers from ugly impersonal front panels. And the world changed that day and never went back.
I also invented a video terminal for the Apple I with which I had access to early Arpanet, the forerunner of today's Internet. And I developed a video game for Atari in an extremely short period. I designed "blue boxes" that could make free calls all over the world by emitting tones into a telephone. I designed lot of calculator chips for Hewlett-Packard scientific calculators... It's so hard to say, you know, the list goes on and on. I had a full engineering life, even though it was time to slow down at about age of 30.
IDG: I heard you are interested in the field of robotics, is that right?
Wozniak: Yes, I am.
IDG: I personally find some robots pretty scary -- especially those projected for the Department of Defense. Do you think the Terminator age is close or the age of intelligent machines is coming?
Wozniak: It is coming, but it's coming very slowly. These machines that seem to walk really have a special requirement. The way a human being walks is still almost impossible to copy. ... Every one of these robots will kind of do one thing well, but we never will see a robot that makes a cup of coffee, never. I don't believe we will ever see it.
IDG: I hope you're right.
Wozniak: Think of the steps that a human being has to do to make a cup of coffee and you have covered basically 10, 20 years of your lifetime just to learn it. So for a computer to do it the same way, it has to go through the same learning, walking to a house using some kind of optical with a vision system, stepping around and opening the door properly, going down the wrong way, going back, finding the kitchen, detecting what might be a coffee machine. You can't program these things, you have to learn it, and you have to watch how other people make coffee. ... This is a kind of logic that the human brain does just to make a cup of coffee. We will never ever have artificial intelligence. Your pet, for example, your pet is smarter than any computer.
IDG: Do you have any unfulfilled dream, like having grandchildren? Which would be the virtues and values you teach them?
Wozniak: I have three children and I'm careful not to influence their values with my own. ... [I want them to be] kind with other people and make friends, get their own influences, and I'm going to help them go in those directions. That's how I was raised and I believe it's great to raise my children in that way. And I'm sure I'll have grandchildren before too long. That's the whole aspect of having kids.
IDG: But again, do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
Wozniak: To get 750,000 points on Game Boy "Tetris." [Laughs.] Also, I have a long dream to build my own house in a very energy-efficient approach. That's going to be very soon. It uses the right kind of wood that serves as a heater and as an air conditioner, combined with some other techniques in how the wood is assembled to operate energy life pressure. You don't have to add energy into a house after you build it. I love that concept. It's like the way I used to make computers. I want to build it myself. That's a project that could be finished this summer, next summer, but not too far from now.