Two of the technology world’s foremost pioneers made separate appearances at a major engineering conference in Silicon Valley this week and they didn’t mince words about the good, bad, and ugly in today’s disruptive tech environment. Steve Wozniak, who teamed up with Steve Jobs to found #Apple nearly four decades ago, and Grady Booch, a leading researcher with IBM, shared opinions, stories, and wisdom with an enthralled gathering of engineers and company executives.
Apple founders started with nothing
Wozniak spent much of his hour onstage at the TechIgnite conference in Burlingame, California regaling attendees with stories about the early days of Apple and how he and Jobs scrambled to launch their fledgling personal computer company.
“We had no savings accounts and no rich relatives,” said Wozniak at the event, which was organized by the IEEE Computer Society.
Wozniak described how Jobs worked out a deal with a local chip supplier to get the key parts they needed to build the first Apple computers by agreeing to a 30 day credit deal. Jobs would drive the parts back to his garage and Wozniak would assemble the computers and sell them as quickly as possible to pay off the debt so they could buy more parts. “My motivation wasn’t to start a company,” said Wozniak. “I just wanted to show off my engineering prowess.”
According to Wozniak, the legendary Jobs (who passed away in 2011) “wasn’t ever a computer designer.” But he knew how to wheel and deal, so he left the technology to Wozniak whose programming skills ended up bringing computers to a mass audience. “We knew that the Apple I wasn’t going to change the world,” said Wozniak.
“But the Apple II was.”
Wozniak also took issue with how he and his colleague were portrayed in the 2013 movie – “Jobs” – that was directed by Joshua Michael Stern. In the film, Wozniak is portrayed as a fan of the Beatles (he’s actually an ardent Bob Dylan devotee) and is pictured being led at one point by Jobs to his first computer club meeting. “What a bunch of crap,” said Wozniak, who’s film character was acted by Josh Gad.
Also on the TechIgnite agenda was Grady Booch, an IBM Fellow who has been internationally recognized for his work in software architecture and machine learning. Booch has been working on a number of initiatives involving the role of computers in society and the ethics surrounding the industry. “I’m not so much worried about machine intelligence as I am about human stupidity,” said Booch during his conference appearance.
Uber’s actions draw harsh criticism
Booch delivered a harsh message to Uber who made news last month when it was revealed that the ride sharing service had designed a computer program to avoid picking up regulators in cities where they were attempting to establish a presence.
“I find their behavior disgusting,” said Booch. “Every line of code you write is an ethical, moral decision.”
He further commented on the evolving role of technology as a disruptor of governance, citing the current occupant of the White House who he characterized as “governing by Tweet.” Booch urged the engineers in the audience to engage more with politicians and perhaps even get more computer scientists elected to Congress (only four serve today).
Wozniak and Booch expressed enthusiasm for the roles that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) will play in shaping tech’s future. However, responding to a question in a post-appearance press conference, Wozniak agreed that “device fatigue” may be setting in among consumers, following this week’s news that Apple would reduce the price of the iPad.
Apple’s co-founder said he still gets irritated when technology doesn’t work right. “I get mad when a computer doesn’t work, because it’s people like me who built it,” said Wozniak. Working or not, it will be hard for any of us to forget his contribution.