27 August 2012 by Alaistair Deacon
The Meeting that Woz
I had the privilege of hearing and briefly meeting Steve Wozniak as he presented the keynote address at the Turing Festival last week. Steve, or “The Woz” as he is better known, is probably best known for his founding role in Apple. While Jobs was the marketing genius, it was Wozniak who single handed designed the hardware, PCBs and operating system for the Apple I and Apple II, one of first few computers I laid my hands on.
It was interesting to listen and look through his “engineering” eyes on the current and future state of the industry.
Surprisingly, I don’t feel he was a proponent of Apple’s “closed” platform approach. Maybe if Apple had licenced their technology in the early days, I wouldn’t be typing this on a Windows laptop. He commented that iTunes and the App Store should be opened up to Android users. And conversely, you should be able to go outside of the App Store for software for your iPhone and iPad (just be aware that it would not have gone through the quality checks of an App Store app).
And his thoughts on the future?
He had doubted Ray Kurzweil’s predictions on AI, and the “Age of Intelligent Machines” in the 90’s. But Woz conceded that you could consider that “the Internet is now conscious”. You most certainly cannot turn it off! And any significant attempts to disconnect people or countries from it are as likely to create as much civil unrest and revolution as a corrupt or oppressive regime. So maybe Kurzweil’s predictions may be on track, but 40 – 100 years later that his suggestions.
On technology? 3D printing for the masses, consumer commoditisation and photon computing…
Need a special tool for a job? Simply download the design and print it at home. Spare part for the car? Same thing… 3D printing is being picked up by the “Maker Community” in the same way that early computing was picked up by hobbyists in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s. It’s probably only 5-10 years away for the masses.
In the past, technological advancement was driven by governments and the military, and then spun off to the commercial sector. Neil Logan has already posted on the subject of consumerisation, and this trend will only continue. 8K video, or Super HD, technology demonstrated during the Olympics is driven by our need to be entertained in ever more realism. Take this technology and then apply it to satellite imaging or MRI scanning to improve crop yields and medical diagnosis.
But will Moore’s law continue? We are already at the point where only around 8 electrons constitute a “bit” in memory. We probably still have a couple more generations, but need to look to alternates to photolithography for electronics. Wozniak’s thoughts turn to optical, or “photon” computing as he puts it. Remember, photons have no mass…
But the main thing I took away from listening to him was his humble and self-effacing attitude, combined with a real enthusiasm for “engineering” and having FUN. It was not money, owning a company, or “entrepreneurship” that drove him, it was wanting to “create something that he wanted”, and have fun while doing it.
What does that mean for developers? We can’t all just work on projects for systems “we want”. But you can carry that attitude into your approach and development activities. Just ask yourself when you’re developing functionality, “is this how I would want to use it?” You may just get a better solution!
For architects and designers, look at the overall solution. Immerse yourself in the customer’s world. Don’t just take a dry set of requirements to be analysed and implemented. It’s part of our core values to “Work to be the best”.
For entrepreneurs, having and idea is not enough! You’ve actually got to be able to make it.
For me, it means renewing how I look at the aviation industry and deciding “how would I like to experience travel”. I’m about to head off next week to Future Travel Experience in Vancouver. This will involve the usual delights of long haul flying. Along the way, I’ll tweet my travel experiences (@alaistairdeacon), with comments on how I would change it. You never know, some of it might just happen. And hopefully I will have some fun on the way…
As a footnote to my encounter with the Woz…