Steve Wozniak: Human Over Technology

Maintaining a creed of human over technology has served Apple and its co-founder Steve Wozniak well over the last four decades. In this Q&A, Wozniak discusses how making technology work for people brought about the Apple II and shares his thoughts on arti
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Steve Wozniak will take the stage on June 13, in New York, during Atlantic Design & Manufacturing. Register for the event here!

Flash back to 1977. A young Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs head to the West Coast Computer Faire and premier the Apple II, their new machine with the ability to display color graphics and with a comparatively low price point that what would quickly become the first mainstream personal computer following the trade show.

Wozniak was largely responsible for the design of the Apple II, which he laid out with an open architecture, sharing the design elements with other engineers, and including multiple expansion slots to permit third-party devices. It was a machine designed for people, to be human-relatable and work as they worked, opposed to focusing on technology.

Maintaining a creed of human over technology has served Wozniak and Apple well over the last four decades. Indeed, history proves that most of Apple’s biggest successes came when the company followed this creed – like the Apple II, the Macintosh, and the App Store – and its biggest failures came when it dishonored that thinking – as with the Apple III, a computer design heavily influenced by Apple’s marketing department.

Now 40 years after the Apple II debuted, Wozniak chatted with Design News about the world-changing computer and how it and Apple brought humanity to machines through its design.

Beyond Apple, Wozniak shared his thoughts on other factors of technology that lend human to machine, including artificial intelligence, robotics, sharing knowledge through open-source design, and advancing medical breakthroughs.

What follows is an excerpt of a conversation between Wozniak and Design News (DN). Wozniak will discuss these topics and more during a keynote at Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, a conference and expo event this June hosted in New York by Design News’ parent company UBM. Register to hear from Wozniak live at the event here.

 

DN: In your biography, “iWoz,” you discuss how you knew when you were young that you wanted to work on computers—that was your desired prime focus area. If you were starting out now, what would you want to work on?

Wozniak: Back then it was more like this is going to be my passion for life and a hobby. I didn’t actually think I would ever work on computers. I didn’t think they were jobs. I though engineers did other things.

It’s a difficult question that I get asked a lot. Does it mean that I am here today with the same interests I had then or am I back then? It’s hard to really tell what the question is. But I’m pretty sure I would have wound up stumbling [into] electronics again. I’d probably be wiring up modern day, do-it-yourself, maker-type things. I’d probably be connecting small little Raspberry Pis and motors and trying to make little devices that move around and are programable. Who knows?

Robotics offers up a lot of considerations. As you grow up, it’s really later in life that you begin to study physics and the mechanical engineering aspects, properties of materials, and electronics and programming. It’s hard to say, but I think I would have been on a course toward robotics.

In this modern age, if I were bright enough, I’d probably be headed toward artificial intelligence to make [a robot] do a lot of useful things on its own, like sit in the driveway and wash my car on its own, one-square centimeter at a time, all night long, while I sleep.

 

DN: You just mentioned DIY (do-it-yourself) tech. How do you feel about the open-source movement?

Wozniak: I would have to guess that I would still be very into not only civil liberties but sharing information to increase on what others have done. I think I’d be very much into the open-source world. Absolutely, I mean, do what you do. I was young then but [if it were today], I think I’d still like to show engineering prowess and encourage other people to follow step and be able to build on what you’ve done.

 

Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, New York, 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, IoT, IIoT, cyber security, smart manufacturing, smart factorySteve Wozniak will take the stage on June 13, in New York, during Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, the East Coast's largest advanced design and manufacturing event. The engineer and cult icon will discuss a range of topics that span his experience at Apple, as well as today's leading tech trends such as robotics, IoT, and wearables, among others. Register for the event here!

DN: You also mentioned AI. Do you have any ethical concerns about the way artificial intelligence is developing now?

Wozniak: Ethical, to me, means truthfulness. The fact that you might be building something that changes mankind – it’s hard to say if it’s a detriment to mankind, we may end up being second on the order of species to machines – I don’t think that ethics applies. We don’t go into these things thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to do something very bad so it gives me power’ or something like that.

You can’t really stop progress. Learning, science, being able to make things that never existed before—You can never stop that. Those things can turn out to have bad aspects. Study the atom and you get the atomic bomb. Learn how to build machines that can make clothing and you could have a lot of people out of work and people have to do other things.

There’s sort of a fear with artificial intelligence that machines could become so intelligence and versatile that they could totally replace a person so there wouldn’t be other jobs to go to, but that is so far off it’s an unrealistic fear at this stage. It would take decades and decades.

We have machines that can learn to play a game faster and better than a human. For 200 years, we’ve had those machines that can make clothing better than a human. It seems like they are thinking better and faster than us, but we told them what to think about, what to work on, what to learn and the method to learn it by—and then they learned very well.

We do not have a machine yet that says, ‘what should I learn, what should I tell myself to go learn, what are the important things to go do.’ And the ethical fear is just a little bit of that those machines will want the things we [humans] want. For example, people with money may want a political system where money rules and a machine run system may want something where machines get built and could care less about clean air and things.

 

DN: Are there any medical device designs or advancements that have piqued your interest in recent years?

Wozniak: Almost everyone piques my interest. These little devices are doing tasks that were really only done by a doctor [until recently] and we thought that only a doctor had the mind to help us out. Yes, you can have a wearable that measures your temperature or your pulse rate. Those are kind of minor compared to diagnosing diseases, which is what we are really interested in.
The devices that can use nanotechnology — slide it into your mouth and from that it can discern what molecules are there and which viruses and bacteria might be in your body — that’s an intriguing concept because it’s very simple in its definition. When you visualize it, it’s something you yourself as a person can use.

And what if it winds up being able to diagnose things and detect a lot of things better than doctors do. It’s kind of like self-driving cars. Are they going to put non-self-driving cars out of business, just because they do the job of safety better?

 

Steve Wozniak will take the stage on June 13, in NY, during Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, the East Coast's largest advanced design and manufacturing event. The engineer and cult icon will discuss a range of topics that span his experience at Apple, as well as today's leading tech trends such as robotics, IoT, and wearables, among others. Register for the event here!

 

DN: The Apple I and Apple II were tremendous creations in themselves, but is there anything that you wish you had had the idea for first that’s already out there? Is there an electronic or design that you wish you had thought of first?

Wozniak: I don’t like to go back and think in ways that would give you grief over having not done something. It’s just not part of my makeup, my philosophies in life. Basically, with things like the Apple II, my focus is always on things that make life better for people.

I can think of things along the way – the Internet, smartphone creation – a lot of steps along the way that were so important and I could say, ‘oh man, I wish I had had a role in that,’ but I had my role. My role was still, always try to make things a little nicer for people, the way humans would want them. If you think about your apps, that’s sort of what they do for you given the alternatives we’ve had in the past. You could take ones like Uber or ones that make reservations at a hotel and feel like this is nice and human.

The Apple II was the first time arcade games were in color and the first time arcade games were programmable by a 9-year-old. That’s pretty human in itself, too.

The humanity of computers like the Lisa and the Macintosh with a mouse were that you looked at a screen the way you looked at real life with your eyes, a 2-dimensional desktop –  it has a phone over there, a pencil and pen, some paper – it has all of these items that you use in front of you in a 2-dimensional view so you could look at something and go to it.

That was probably the biggest step in bringing humanity to machines. The way humans live their life is more important than the way technology wants to do it. We didn’t have to change ourselves to meet the technology. The technology was changed, program and program after program — a lot of hard work —  to work in a way that was confident and familiar to humans.

I’ve always preferred the human over the technology. Well, we all would say that we do. But I look at specific representations of that in every product I buy and generally I’m not too happy.
 

WozSteve Wozniak will take the stage on June 13, in New York, during Atlantic Design & Manufacturing. Register for the event here!

DN: Do you have any advice for those who are designing and aren’t meeting that expectation?

Wozniak: Yes. Try to have some of the people who are going to use it evaluate it. Beta testers often aren’t always the people. You have to find some really good people who should be part of the design team and those people should say, ‘is this intuitive, do I natural get it to do the right thing and get the right results?’

Try to make things as intuitive as possible. That’s the human way.

 

DN: You’ve managed great success without becoming a ‘suit’ and staying an engineer. How did you do that?

Wozniak: It was a different time and age. I made my success as an engineer. I was known for designing things very cleverly, with very few parts, and being able to get things done that other people weren’t even imagining. I had about 10 of those crazy genius years in my life. What was fun for me was being acknowledged by other engineers for the engineering. Not for starting personal computers or a big, successful company or all that. That really wasn’t my direct role. Really, before anything else, [it was] building machines for myself that I would like and trying to impress other engineers with my engineering powers.

 

DN: That goes back to your DIY comments, being willing to share your ideas and knowhow.

Wozniak: Yes, absolutely. Well, I was also shy, and, of course, I worked at Hewlett Packard, so there were things you did not share. Once we started Apple for real, though, boy, we shared at first and we only got closed-up after the Apple II.

By the way, as far as open source goes, Apple’s biggest advances happen to coincide with the few times it was open. For example, we made the Macintosh open after Steve Jobs left. We worked really hard for three years to make the Macintosh a product that could substantiate our company.

When Steve returned, his big success was with the iPod and he allowed iTunes, our music program that worked with the iPod, to be written for Windows. So, Macintosh and Windows users could use an iPod. The iPod was the first time our company valuation doubled over the Apple II days and the board [of directors] gave Steve billions of dollars in stock and jet airplanes. But it was a case of openness.
The product that changed my life the most from Apple – I used to say the iPhone – but now I say the third-party Apps Store and that’s an open-thinking way. We allowed programmers a way to get in and write official programs for the iPhone.

 

Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, New York, 3D Printing, Additive Manufacturing, IoT, IIoT, cyber security, smart manufacturing, smart factorySteve Wozniak will take the stage on June 13, in New York, during Atlantic Design & Manufacturing, the East Coast's largest advanced design and manufacturing event. The engineer and cult icon will discuss a range of topics that span his experience at Apple, as well as today's leading tech trends such as robotics, IoT, and wearables, among others. Register for the event here!

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