Sixty Minutes with Wozniak at ATA

Co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak was the featured speaker at the annual American Telemedicine Association meeting this week. Instead of delivering a keynote, he sat on stage and had a casual conversation with the president of ATA.

Bernard A. Harris, MD was a great interviewer. Wozniak, who talks faster than the fastest-talking New Yorker I know, probably would have gladly spent the hour recapping his own history of favorite practical jokes. He’s the geek and brain behind dial-a-joke.

During the hour Wozniak recapped some of his best-pulled of pranks and gave a short autobiographical sketch. Harris managed to get a few words in so he could tap Wozniak for some advice. What advice would he give entrepreneurs?

Wozniak had said earlier in the interview that he does things over and over again, making the end result better each time. This is how he designed computer chips when he was in his late teens, early twenties.

“I got better and better at making things smaller and smaller and smaller,” Wozniak said. “The number of chips it took for a design had to be the minimum. And it turns out that led me to some good life philosophies about trying to make everything the fewest steps possible.”

It seems like that’s kind of his approach to talking, too. He sets out to give an answer and starts talking before he knows exactly what he’s going to say. Then he refines his words until he deliverers a short take-home message.

What advice would he give entrepreneurs?

“Well. I don’t know … let’s see.” The he commenced, talking a mile a minute.

“Entrepreneurship. You know, that’s one of the great things about the Valley ― everybody’s an entrepreneur. That’s one of the bad things ― that everybody’s gotta be an entrepreneur, too. You can’t just sit back and fish by the river every day and have a nice little peaceful life.”

Pause.

“You gotta have somebody who’s got it in their heart to do something.”

He added that money isn’t enough to be that driving force. As a hobby, Wozniak used to tinker with electronics after he got home from his job at Hewlett-Packard where he designed scientific calculators. In his free time, Wozniak invented things for himself, for fun.

Friend and future Apple Co-founder Steve Jobs would come by, take a look and say, “Ah! I know where we can sell it.”

Still, money wasn’t Jobs’ greatest driving force either, Wozniak said.

“Steve would have the mentality of, you’ve gotta take things to the world. You’ve gotta make a big mark. You’ve gotta someday have a company that will become a bigger company and reach a lot of people,” he said.

When Wozniak and Jobs were college-aged (but not in college, since both dropped out) they were too young to know what they were doing ― a very good thing. Wozniak said it’s OK to be different when you’re young.

“Try things that are almost impossible,” he said.

Harris asked Wozniak what the biggest challenges facing technology are. Wozniak kind of bypassed the question, as if to say, don’t worry about the challenges, we’ll figure it out.

He answered, saying that computers are getting closer acting like human beings. With the ability to feel touch and motion, see through a camera and to hear, an iPhone has almost all of the senses that a human has. Eventually a computer will be the iPhone’s Siri and IBM’s Watson combined, meaning you will be able to talk to it, and it will intelligently talk back to you.

“It’s going to know my insides better than you do. Better than my wife does,” Wozniak said smiling and only half-joking.

“It’s going to be my best friend. Because my phone knows me as a person. Nobody else does.”

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