Before coming to the island for The Nantucket Project this September, Steve Wozniak spoke with N Magazine about founding Apple, his friendship with Steve Jobs and the future of technology.
N MAGAZINE: For those who haven’t been following your career, what have you been up to since Apple?
WOZNIAK: Since the Apple days, I’ve had a number of startups, making such things as the universal remote control and GPS location tags. I have done a lot of philanthropy, starting museums and arts companies in San Jose. I enjoy going around and inspiring young people in high school and college with stories of innovation, creativity, and how you can think. I might have eighty to a hundred appearances a year, mostly foreign, so I’m very used to airplanes. My address is more like 747.
N MAGAZINE: If you were still at the helm of Apple, what types of new technology would you want to develop?
WOZNIAK: Automobiles is one category. You’re probably talking trillions of dollars, and a
company like Apple has to think big. Obviously, the other category that I think is very important in the future is artificial intelligence.
N MAGAZINE: What are your thoughts about artificial intelligence?
WOZNIAK: I’ve been concerned for a long time. Basically the machines have been getting more and more intelligent and replacing our brains more and more. We never designed Google, or our personal computers, or the Internet to be a brain. We stumbled on it doing that job by accident. Even if computers got conscious, they wouldn’t be able to change the infrastructure of everything that is used to build computers, to maintain them, to keep them running, to keep them powered. If a machine is a lot smarter than a human, then it will realize that cooperation and working together [with humans] is important. They would care about us humans and want to preserve us and take care of us. Maybe they’ll look to us as sort of the god that made them.
N MAGAZINE: Google and a number of other companies are using massive resources toward increasing human longevity. What are your thoughts on technology created to increase the human lifespan?
WOZNIAK: I get especially turned off by increasing lifespan — especially by the idea of living forever. Preserving a lot of older people that aren’t necessarily the brilliant contributors to new ideas just goes counter to innovation. I have such a great life. I love life! I love everything about it. I love everyone that helps me have a life, right down to the person that makes my shoelaces. But I want younger people to be able to come up and go through and have that same life experience too. But here’s the problem: What if there comes along a chip that you could implant when you’re young, and it will guarantee that you will live an extra fifty years? Would you want to do it or would you want to be natural? I have a tendency toward wanting to be natural, but if every single kid in the school is getting that chip, my kid is going to get it, too.
N MAGAZINE: What was your relationship like with Steve Jobs?
WOZNIAK: We were best friends for five years before Apple. Steve needed money — he had no money. I had a job as an engineer, and I designed all of these things for fun. He’d come into town about once a year, see something I had built, and he would go down to a company and turn it into money for us. And we’d share the money. So we’d been doing that for five years before we even started Apple. We loved going to concerts together. We loved talking about Bob Dylan, ideas of the world, counterculture ideas. We even loved doing pranks together. Once Apple started, Steve was a different personality for the rest of his life — in charge of a company, looking good in a suit, on the covers of magazines. But that was what he always wanted. He got what he wanted in life. But up until that point it was this best friend thing.
N MAGAZINE: There’s a new biopic coming out about him this fall. Did they capture Steve Jobs accurately?
WOZNIAK: [The film] glorified him like the god that he became through the great products that came out of Apple under his guidance in later times. They portrayed him as sort of the brilliant leader, when really he just failed, failed, failed at execution, getting things done the right way at the right time, the right price, the right products. He had many failures until he left Apple, and a lot of it came from him not understanding technology and what a real computer was. That’s a misconception about Steve Jobs — like [that] he was dictating terms to a financial investor. His investor owned as much as Steve and I did of the company, and he told us to set up a technology company, hire this position, that position, another position, and here’s what their responsibilities are. The investor was totally telling us how to make a company — we were just students learning.
N MAGAZINE: Back then did you ever imagine it would become the company it is today?
WOZNIAK: We were talking like a bunch of hobbyists and enthusiasts that eventually everyone could own a computer in their house because it could help every single person. The ideas that we had and the ways that it would help them would have actually been a failure if that’s how computers had evolved. They never would have sold. There never would have been a market. There were things that we did not predict. Because we built a platform that others could write software for and design the hardware for, other brilliant people had ideas and they were able to extend our computer into areas where they could eventually be helpful to normal people in their daily life needs.
N MAGAZINE: What are your thoughts on the impact of technology on a generation of kids who were brought up with iPhones in hand?
WOZNIAK: I am a bad person to ask because I’m not a good person to analyze it analytically. I grew up my entire life believing that we are on a course to cause change. Somehow we have guidance to change the world. Change is not bad. The change is just moving forward. Yes, our kids are going to miss out on some things that we loved in life and were important to us, but they’re going to have their own world. As long as they’re enjoying life with what they have, that’s good. It’s just different.
Steve Wozniak is slated to speak on the final day of The Nantucket Project, September 27th, courtesy of Amy Gray of New Leaf Speakers.