Wizard of Woz
Four decades ago, Apple co-founder and IT guru Steve Wozniak was one of the prime movers in the computer revolution. Will the technology he helped create liberate humanity, or will it make us more isolated, more addicted to our own enslavement? Is there a secret to innovation, and what is the Next Big Thing? Wozniak joins Oksana to examine these issues.
Oksana Boyko, RT: Mr. Wozniak, thank you very much for being on the show. I know that you describe yourself as an agnostic, an atheist, but it seems that everywhere you go people worship you. How does that feel?
Steve Wozniak: I am so glad that technology has gone so far and changed our lives so much that people actually feel a kind of love and look for a symbol to worship and I am an accidental symbol. I was just a lucky, great engineer at one time.
RT: I don’t think it’s so accidental and speaking about Apple and worshipping, I think Apple was one of the first companies to put to really put man and human experience at the center of design. The company really tried to create gadgets that would be an extension of human skills. It’s very convenient obviously, but on the other hand, isn’t there a danger that we will lose our ability to innovate because necessity or maybe frustration is the mother of invention?
SW: I disagree because all these factors that are making it possible for our products to do these things. It feels like: “Wow! I used to have to work, to think hard to be able to do this!” – they need thinking to be developed. Apple has always had the mission to make things easier for the human, put the human first and that means saving us from physical labor, from mental labor, from thinking hard and I really like it. I think I’m getting a lot more use from my products when I speak naturally to them and get done what I want to do. Will it get worse than it is today? Are we on a trend when devices are doing so much for us that we only make a few decisions in our life and then we fill up the rest of the time with communication? I don’t know, that’s a question. But we can’t stop it, so why worry about it?
RT: Looking at your legendary history with the Apple 1 and Apple 2 , I know that you said on various occasions that one of the reasons you were able to come up with this very attractive product is because of the shortage of money. You had to innovate. You had to think about how to create it on a shoestring budget. If everything were delivered to you on a silver platter, do you think you would have the motivation to go out and do that?
SW: Look at some of the more recent innovations. OK, the movie the ‘Social Network’ about Facebook and Facebook came out of the same origins as Apple - very little money and an idea that people started recognizing was popular and desired by people. Those ideas keep coming up and they come up in the app area, they cost zero or $1 dollar or $2 or $3. So they’re very much driven by the fact that there isn’t going to be a lot of revenue - “we’re just going to do it from our hearts.”
A lot of innovation comes out there, a lot of them turn out to be successful when people didn’t expect it. That doesn’t mean that you can make a lot of money with apps, but that world is very open. Could I make an entire computer platform today? I was very lucky. I was one human being that could build the whole computer the hardware and the software. Today there are so many millions of bits of code that you have to take what’s already been done before and piece it together. Then you have to manufacture and you just can’t compete with the big companies in the same area now. That’s why the area of competition has shifted to how we live our lives and how these tools can be used to affect our lives.
RT: Speaking of necessity being the mother of invention, you have just opened a conference here in Moscow that focuses on how to make the IT industry a new locomotive for growth in Russia. There has been discussion about that for the last 7 years or maybe even longer, but the problem is more than half of Russia’s revenue comes from oil and gas which are relatively easy to produce and easier to sell. Do you think it is reasonable to talk about creating a new Silicon Valley here in Russia?
SW: I think it’s very reasonable, especially here in Russia. I drive around Moscow and I see plaques on a lot of buildings that are pointed out to me, honoring dancers and engineers and artists and creative people. I think in the culture of this country there is a lot of appreciation for those who have been creative. I’ve already seen products, even today here in Russia, that are outstanding products from around the world. So when it comes to the mind, no minds anywhere in the world are better than other minds. Can we be another silicon valley? It takes a time to build up a critical mass, to have more and more technology companies. But I think it’s a good, proper direction for all countries that depend today on natural resources like Russia does. Why would you think that it couldn’t be done here? A lot of thinking has to be done, more about the psychology than the actual knowledge of engineering and products. What motivates people? What motivates entrepreneurs and innovators? How do you take advantage of somebody who has a lot of ideas? What sort of resources should you help them with? Not huge amounts of money to help them build a company, I would suggest, but maybe little amounts of money to buy little products and use tools to help them get their dreams created.
RT: Let me pick up on that. You are somebody who built things from scratch. What do you think of the idea of subsidies for inventors and creators?
SW: I’ve never heard of it being done, but I’m totally for it. When I worked for Hewlett Packard, designing all the Apple stuff, they had a policy in the company that was written and it said that an engineer could take parts from the storeroom, chips and things like that, for devices of his own design with supervisor approval. Well, you know what? To borrow a few dollars’ worth of chips and build something even for yourself and your own home is increasing your mind in a way that you couldn’t get from a university course.
RT: I wonder if you could give your Russian colleagues and friends a tip. I know that back in the 80s in a 1984 interview that you said that in every decade we have a new industry being created from scratch that grows very dramatically. We certainly saw that with personal computers, phones and later social networks. What do you think is going to be the latest breakthrough?
SW: I am actually with what everyone else is talking about which is wearable technology, but I also think that speech recognition and speech understanding - artificial intelligence stuff. I think we’ve never really got close to penetrating or understanding how the brain really works, so I think if we keep taking steps in that direction we’re going to stumble of the clues by accident. I want a machine that talks to me like you’re talking to me and understands my words the way you are and looks at my face and understands my life and even knows things about my family, what’s important to me that we’re not even talking about. I want that personal friend in a machine. It might take us a long time. It might take us 20 years, 30 years to get there.
RT: Many people say that technology is making us a bunch of loners. It substitutes the value of real connection. If something like that is being developed isn’t there a danger that we will become essentially encapsulated in our own little semi- technological world?
SW: That’s what we say only because we fear the change, that something different is worse than what we had before. Things that meant a lot emotionally and were beautiful in our lives could go away. That doesn’t mean that the new person doesn’t have those emotions in a new sense. I watch my own kids go into a room and all day long in a room on a computer and think: “wow, they’re just away from the world. I have a newspaper, they don’t know things that go on in the world.” They knew more than I did it turned out. Also, I thought of myself, I was a very shy person. For shy people it’s very difficult to go out in society and you’re afraid of people, you don’t ever want to talk to people, you walk routes that avoid having to say a word to another person. Online you’re unknown, it’s like you can open up and have a world of friends no matter how shy you are. So it has helped a lot in that social regard.
RT: I heard you saying that on Facebook you have 2,000 friends, some of whom are people you don’t really know. Is it the same as having real friends?
SW: The problem is I am so soft I won’t be a hard person and if someone says something nice about how much I have changed their lives or how Apple has, yes, you can be a friend. I can’t turn you down when you’re that way. Or if you send me a picture of a couple – I believe in true love – I see it there, then you’re my friend. I also never shut off my email so every Facebook message comes to me and I read it and it’s a huge amount of time and a huge amount of my life. But, a lot of benefits come out, I have met some really great people who I move from the category of fan into friends. So I make more friends every year, real friends that I stay in touch with, more than I could have ever imagined.
RT: You mentioned your kids and how savvy they are with technology, but there are a lot of studies, especially in the US, that show that this new generation on average has fewer friends than people of your generations had. Do you think that’s partly related to technology and the way we relate to the surrounding world?
SW: I’m guessing that you’re probably referring to some study where it was fewer close friends because when you have a lot of friends they tend to get deluded and spread out. Maybe that’s just the future. Maybe the total sum is actually more important than anything for example you always talk about brainstorming. I have a problem. If a hundred friends hear it and all will jump in and help right away, you’ll probably get a solution more likely than one or two that you trust for an answer.
RT: You’re the most famous American in Moscow at the moment. But there is one more American here who is also relatively famous and has a similar background to you, he is a computer wizard of sorts. I am talking about Edward Snowden and you know that some Americans believe he is a hero and others believe he is a criminal. Where do you stand?
SW: I believe he’s a hero. I believe he is coming directly from his heart that he feels some goodness, that he wants to be truthful to the American people that he believes in and loves his country so strongly and that he took a very drastic step and made a sacrifice. If there were anything in my life that I could do that would be equivalent to his achievements, I would do it. I don’t have knowledge or information to expose government bad activities that they do secretly. I am very glad he is exists among us and he is a hero. And I hope that if I were in the same situation, I would have the courage to do the same thing.
RT: You know that Russian granted him temporary political asylum and when this issue was considered, the president of this country, Mr Putin, was asked about Snowden and his answer was very peculiar. He actually said he doesn’t really understand people like that - somebody who has a very technical mind who is very low-profile and yet somebody who would put his life on the line for his principles. He doesn’t understand people like that, but you have been with people like that your whole life. Do you think we will see more “techies” taking issue with the governments of the world for the sake of their values?
SW: I’m not sure that techies are that liberal-minded, trying to do good for humans. I think a lot of them fall across the spectrum just like any type of people. I don’t think you can actually put it on a techy. I think Snowden could well have been a humble assistant, maybe a janitor, maybe a very important worker. I don’t think it really matters that he is a techy and I don’t know exactly what his tech responsibilities are.
The thing is there is something about truth being very important when you spend your whole life working in systems like engineering and software and your programs have to work. You come up with this very strong logical connection and you should follow the logic. The logic leads to the write answer, it leads you to the objective answer. It doesn’t follow a bias. This whole thing is kind of Socratic about truth and getting it out there. To me the apex of all good in my life – I decided when I was 20- is truth. If people are hiding the truth it’s bad and that even applies to the government. I thought that Putin, when I read all that, was realizing that his government has the same sort of spying on civilians.
RT: We don’t know the extent of spying. It seems that many governments have similar programs and one of the things that Edward Snowden revealed was that many tech companies were actually complicit in this spying. Isn’t that surprising to you that people who started their business from scratch and were idealistic at some point in their lives would cross the Rubicon to the powers that be?
SW: I think some of the tech companies want to be there and it’s usually cellphone carriers. I think a lot of the other companies like Apple and Google and other technology companies do not want to do that at all and I think they were forced into it under legal conditions.
RT: You’ve said many times you’d always wanted to be an engineer. I am sure you would say that both you and Steve Jobs had equally important contributions to the success of Apple. There is a Hollywood blockbuster about Steve Jobs with the character of Steve Wozniak playing a supporting role. Do you think we have our priorities right in terms of the social and business value of these fields?
SW: Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. Marketing and sales are very important. It might be a tougher job to get people to accept the word ‘computer’ in their homes than it was for me to create it. I go back and look at my engineering and it was so different to anything you find in a book. Yes, that kind of engineer is very difficult to find. The Apple 2 was recognized by all my friends, it was going to be a huge, hit-product, it was the product that brought all the revenues for Apple for the first ten years. But it didn’t do it alone without the marketing and the business genius, largely by people above Steve Jobs who were teaching him. But Steve’s push and his speaking and him being the face of the company were really important to making that product successful. I see a lot of people now being trained to have business success and they’re being trained how to write all the documents to raise money and describe the idea they have. They think the idea has value and they think: “when I have the money I’ll go find the engineers.” No, you should include the engineers in thinking out what the product is. They have been working their whole life on spotting that when something can be done that other people haven’t thought of. How do you find the really bright creative engineers? It’s difficult. I run into one every once in a while and I think: “this person is going to go somewhere and be one of the greatest inventors of all time.” But it’s very rare. No company really has a method to find them.
RT: I think for many young people, it is now a real choice which Steve to become - Steve the inventor or Steve the business executive. It seems that popular culture favors the latter and there are more benefits and less risk associated with the latter choice.
SW: I think it’s in your heart. I went my direction because it was in my heart. When we started the company I could have easily been one of the people running it. I didn’t want be one of those people that says: “I am more important than other people.” Use your brilliance in whatever way you can and it’s OK to make money and it’s OK to run a company as well. It’s ok to be involved in the business side of things.
RT: In one of your previous interviews you were a little critical of the latest Ashton Kutcher feature film about Steve Jobs and you criticized it for the over-glorification of Steve Jobs and giving him all the credit. I would argue that this is part of a larger trend. Humanity likes to create idols. In the beginning of this tech revolution there was a real belief that technology and the internet would make our world more democratic and equal. Do you believe that?
SW: The search for heroes and icons like Steve Jobs – and he’s well deserving of it – has nothing to do with why the film was totally rotten and trash and it didn’t even bring out the greatness of the real Steve Jobs. As far as the internet democratizing things, I think it has done the biggest job in the world. Almost everywhere we can get answers now. We had methods in the past and all of a sudden anywhere in the world we can get answers. But there is a danger that the internet has become a tool of governments to control and watch us.
RT: I would like to pick up on this point. I find it extremely ironic that in English the word intelligence has two increasingly diverging meanings. On one hand it’s a capacity for learning, on the other it’s all about secretive info gathering for governments. The first is all about freedom of thought and the second is all about command and control and I wonder which form of intelligence will prevail.
SW: I like the way you phrased that although I thought when you started that you were going to say the definition of intelligence was one that schools tell us – that always being able to answer tests questions correctly is intelligence. A lot of stuff I did for Apple would have got me an F in school and wouldn’t be allowed in the company. Thinking for yourself is the real intelligence, but it’s not what schools call intelligence with their tests. As far as calling acquiring information about the world intelligence, I actually think that’s important and it can be used for good or bad, it depends on who’s using it.
RT: One of your last encounters with Steve Jobs was at a conference back in 2006. You hugged each other and exchanged formalities and promised to catch up later. I think that encounter had a very sad feeling because you can see from that footage that you are no longer good friends. Given how much time you spent together at the beginning of your career, why did you grow apart? Was it because of money, power?
SW: You only have a certain amount of close friends in your life and Steve and I were closest of friends for 5 years leading to the start of Apple. But your close friends are the ones that are doing the same things as you. When we started Apple his personality was changing into the Steve Jobs that he would be forever. He was going to be the leader of the company and having a say in running things and being very important. I wanted to be humble and I wanted to do the greatest engineering and come up with things that other people in the world wouldn’t even think of and I kept doing that at Apple. We were in different parts of the company. We each got what we wanted out of it. I was very happy, I wanted to be in the background, I didn’t ever want to be on the television. But, you’ve got to give Steve Jobs a lot of the credit for things like the 1984 commercial that got people believing in what the company was about. We were not close friends but Steve was respectful to me from day one. He would call me on the phone near the end of his life and he was always thinking about the early days and did we ever think what Apple would become.
RT: Back in 2010 you made headlines by predicting that Android would be dominant over the IPhone market-wise. Do you still believe that Android will overtake the IPhone?
SW: In terms of some of marketing figures Android actually surpassed the IPhone. As far as overtaking it in people’s minds, no. It’s always been the IPhone, it’s the top product you hear about. There are a lot of ways to explain why Android or Samsung sell more products. Are they going to be the leaders for the next type of product? We’ll have to see. When Android started out, it wasn’t as good as the IPhone, but it grew up and it had the Apple mentality behind it.
RT: Some people believe that this whole world of applications that Apple created is more consequential than the gadgets. What are your favorite apps and which area do you think has the most potential for the development of applications?
SW: My favorite app on the IPhone is definitely Siri. If I went through a whole day and the apps I use at different times it’s very day-to-day and I can’t say any one of them was more important than another except Siri. I’d say Siri is even more important than making phone calls.
RT: Would you like it to be improved?
SW: Yes, hugely because very often I get frustrated with it. I speak and then I change my words and it gets my words right and it doesn’t understand what I meant. And I want to teach it, but that’s software and that’s programing and you’ve got to give it time. Just like some of our early computers didn’t sell very well at first but given enough years you can still make a market out of them.