Tech geeks, especially Apple lovers, know how important Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was in shaping the future of computers, or technology in general. While Steve Jobs was the face of the brand, Wozniak was the man behind the machine. He, along with Jobs, launched Apple Inc. with Apple I, a machine he built single-handedly from scratch.
Wozniak is one of the most sought-after and, more importantly, down-to-earth tech gurus in the world. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise to learn that people went completely berserk when he agreed to do an AMA (Ask me anything) on popular content aggregation site, Reddit
This is the other Steve of Apple in one of the most sincere interviews you’ve ever read.
The Reddit AMA –
“Reddit User: What is Tim Cook doing right or wrong according to you?
Steve Wozniak: Tim Cook is acknowledging the employees of Apple and the customers of Apple as real people. He is continuing a strong tradition that Steve Jobs was known for of making good products that help people do things they want to do in their life, and not taking the company into roads of, “Oh, we’ll make all our money like by knowing you and advertising to you.” We’ll make good products. And you know, I started out as a hardware product guy, so I’m glad to see that.
I worry a little bit about – I mean I love my Apple Watch, but – it’s taken us into a jewelry market where you’re going to buy a watch between $500 or $1100 based on how important you think you are as a person. The only difference is the band in all those watches. Twenty watches from $500 to $1100. The band’s the only difference? Well, this isn’t the company that Apple was originally or the company that really changed the world a lot. So it might be moving, but you’ve got to follow, you know. You’ve got to follow the paths of where the markets are.
Everything else, I’m very approving of Tim Cook, because every time we have a new iOS update, I’m very happy that it’s doing things that really affect people. Like transferring calls from my phone to my computer, etc. I really love even the Airplay, and all that. So, I love the software, and I love the hardware, and nothing’s letting me down. So I approve very strongly of Tim Cook and the new Apple. I dearly miss Steve Jobs too, but, that’s all.
Reddit User: What are your thoughts on the FBI/DOJ vs Apple ordeal at the moment?
Steve Wozniak: All through my time with personal computers from the start, I developed an attitude that things like the movement towards newer, better technologies – like the Macintosh computer, like the touchscreen of the iPhone – that these were making the human more important than the technology. We did not have to modify our ways of living. So the human became very important to me. And how do you represent what humanity is?
You know what, I have things in my head, some very special people in my life that I don’t talk about, that mean so much to me from the past. Those little things that I keep in my head are my little secrets. It’s a part of my important world, my whole essence of my being. I also believe in honesty. If you tell somebody, “I am not snooping on you,” or, “I am giving you some level of privacy; I will not look in your drawers,” then you should keep your word and be honest. And I always try to avoid being a snoop myself, and it’s rare in time that we can look back and say, “How should humans be treated?” Not, “How can the police run everything?”
I was brought up in a time when communist Russia under Stalin was thought to be, everybody is spied on, everybody is looked into, every little thing can get you secretly thrown into prison. And, no. We had our Bill of Rights. And it’s just dear to me. The Bill of Rights says some bad people won’t do certain bad things because we’re protecting humans to live as humans.
So, I come from the side of personal liberties. But there are also other problems. Twice in my life I wrote things that could have been viruses. I threw away every bit of source code. I just got a chill inside. These are dangerous, dangerous things, and if some code gets written in an Apple product that lets people in, bad people are going to find their way to it, very likely.
Reddit User: Steve, what’s the greatest invention that you wished you designed?
Steve Wozniak: That question might be too hard for any human being.
Greatest invention… I just described one, which was a device to pop anywhere – real tiny, into a glove compartment, a backpack, whatever – and be able to locate it, wherever it is in the world. There are some devices that kind of claim that now, but they don’t really work sufficiently.
A device that gives us one extra hour per day?
Reddit User: Even though you left in 1985, what was your relationship with the company like after, and how has that changed compared to now? Are you, for example, allowed to go and visit any colleagues that still work there or are you simply another outsider?
Steve Wozniak: Well, obviously Apple is the most important thing ever in my life, and it would be no matter what I might go off and try to do outside and say. No I would only say one thing, I am Apple.
When I left in ’85, the same as when I left in ’81, I actually remained an employee on a slight payroll. I had a letter from Apple wishing me luck. I sat on a blackboard and showed them what my intent was to go and create as a product, and there was absolutely no conflict. I like to live a life where kinda everyone likes me. I’m just not bad. If somebody is bad to me, I’m still good to them.
Somehow I grew up with these values that seem kind of incredible, so I always was on good terms with Apple and they always liked me, I’m always welcome. I could come by, Steve Jobs would always make sure I had a badge that could get me into any building. I didn’t use it much, but I can go there. The only trouble is I’ll get mobbed.
Reddit User: What is the funniest prank that you’ve pulled?
Steve Wozniak: I get asked that everywhere. I have pulled so many hundreds of pranks; I pull pranks almost every day! So I can’t come up with one funniest prank. Sometimes I like to talk about early ones; when I was so young, how could I have thought of it.
I did like the one where I put a little ticking electronic metronome in a school locker, back when very few people could build such things as a ticking metronome; and I had it rigged so that when you opened the locker, a little tinfoil switch caused the ticking to speed up.
Reddit User: What is your opinion on how immersive our technology is becoming? We use computers in some form, almost constantly. Do you ever feel in your own life that it becomes overwhelming?
Steve Wozniak: I have that feeling all the time because I like a nice, quiet, simple life. I grew up shy. I’m more into products than I’m into socializing. And I do not carry around my phone answering every text message instantly. I am not one of those people.
I wait until I’m alone in my places and get on my computer and do things where I think I’m more efficient. I really see a lot of people that are dragged into it, but you know, I don’t criticize them. When you have change, it’s not that the change in how people are behaving different to you is bad or good, it’s just different.
So that’s sort of the modern way, and you know the millennials, every generation wants to criticize the next generation for missing out on things like personal human contact, but I’ll tell you a little story. When we started Apple, Steve Jobs and I talked about how we wanted to make blind people as equal and capable as sighted people, and you’d have to say we succeeded when you look at all the people walking down the sidewalk looking down at something in their hands and totally oblivious to everything around them!
Reddit User: What do you consider the most difficult obstacle you’ve ever had to overcome?
Steve Wozniak: I had an easy life. I was so good in math, science, electronics, computers, way ahead of the world, that I would never have to worry about a job. So, I didn’t even have obstacles of, how am I going to get a good job or do these things?
Certainly in my early design days, I sometimes tackled problems that I didn’t know if it was possible to solve, but when I’d get there I’d try to look for a solution, and somehow I always found it. Magic was pouring out of me, back in those days.
In later times, well, I’ve had divorces. So I guess you could say those are obstacles in life that I regret. But sometimes you grow up with a geekish personality that isn’t really very social, and I dunno, you wind up in places you shouldn’t have been.
Let’s see, other obstacles…I described one earlier about a product I was trying to make, to locate things like pets and cars and briefcases. The obstacles that I ran into were whether I could come up with some magic ideas. And I did come up with at least one magic idea, but it didn’t achieve the results I wanted in terms of price, power usage, and size.
Basically I think obstacles do a lot with dealing with people, and I work very independently, as far as I can, and then turn it over to others in very complete forms. So I didn’t have a lot of the obstacles some people would talk about.
Obviously in business, we ran into obstacles at Apple. We all believed so much in doing the right thing, and building the Macintosh for the future rather than keeping with the dumb old computers of the past, and trying to achieve the world market. You know, holding our percentage of the world market as it grew ten times. We let Microsoft have all that growth, because we believed in doing the right things. Would you ever look back and say you regretted it or it was an obstacle? No. It was something we had to work hard to finally build a Macintosh market, and get our company back. But, we did the right thing.
Reddit User: Hi Steve! I remember hearing about how you invented the sound card from a dream you had. Have you dreamed up any new devices lately?
Steve Wozniak: I don’t remember which sound card this is about. I actually do dream up devices that would be cool all the time, and I don’t really form a list that I’m working on in my memory. I just keep them inside of me and they come up when they’re needed. Usually I’m looking for an underlying technology developed by physics people and chemistry people on a new type of chip that didn’t exist before that makes something possible that wasn’t possible before.
I had a start-up company to make a little device that would be very low cost, you know like $30 in the grocery store, and you could just pop in anywhere and the battery would last for a year and it would be a little detection device that would notify you if your dog got out of the fence at home, or where your car is located if you forget, and I failed. I failed on technology grounds of cost, size, and the amount of power usage.
But I swear to god, I just keep thinking all the time about the technology advances that would have to be done to make that device possible. So maybe I’ll even get back to it someday.
Reddit User: Are you happy that when you were actively developing hardware, you didn’t have to deal with all the issues that arise around security of user data? Do you wish that there would have been more work around these issues back when you were innovating at Apple?
Steve Wozniak: Creating new things is hard enough on its own; you don’t have time to think about, “Oh, there’ll be security issues.” Keep in mind that the original Apple computers, for quite a long time, were not connected to networks or the Internet. They were just, the computer was in your hands, it would run a program that would help you with some of your daily work, or some problems you needed to solve.
Today, our computers are just sitting out in data centers, and the devices in our hands are simply displaying what the data centers have taken all the information off of hard disks, assembled it, analyzed it, computed it, and sent it back to us. So really, our computers are anonymous. They’re out there somewhere, and who knows what their safety and security level is. We didn’t even have to think about that.
Almost every time a technology is brand new, it leaves security as a later concern. Look at the phone system in the United States. When I was young, you could put tones into a United States phone if you learned about “phone phreaking,” and you could cause calls to be dialed for free anywhere in the world. Who would have thought the phone system would have such a simple flaw? Well actually, they just didn’t think people would be able to build tone generators in about… forever.
Reddit User: What is your favorite up and coming gadget? Anything people don’t know about yet?
Steve Wozniak: Well, I would think probably one of them is certainly the Oculus Rift, or any of the VR headsets. I love putting mine on and watching a basketball game live; it was just an experience that you can’t believe. Sometimes I come out of a VR world, take off the helmet, and I can’t believe I’m actually sitting in my office, at a desk at home. So, that’s one of the big ones.
Right now, Amazon Echo; it’s getting so popular among the people that use it and they speak so highly of it, and it’s so inexpensive. I see a lot of developers that went into smartphones jumping onto that. It’s a platform, and when you have a platform that everybody else is writing apps for and connecting to, basically they’re advertising your company as much as you are.
Obviously, I’m very interested in the evolution of self-driving cars. Right now, the assist that they give you for keeping in your lane and cruise control…the cruise control started back in 2004 actually, adjusting your distance. I love driving my Tesla so much, I just smile! I sit there in the driver’s seat, and I kinda look over at my wife, and I just smile. I’m so happy, not using my hands or feet. So, I think the progression towards self-driving cars is going to be a good one. But it falls into that category of AI.
Now, the AI that impresses me, I fell in love 10 years ago – well not 10 years ago, but whenever it started; Siri was an app you could buy for the iPhone, and I bought it. And for one year, Apple didn’t have it. I just spoke of it as the app that changed my life, because I get to live as a human, saying things out of my head the way I would to another human, and a machine understands me. And I have wanted that to be the future for…forever.
Actually, ever since our Newton message pad, where I could type in, “Sara, dentist, Tuesday, 2 PM,” and click the assist button, and it would open up the calendar; Tuesday at 2 PM, it would put the word dentist, and it would grab Sara out of my contact list. I hand wrote with my own muscles a message for myself, for a human, and a machine understood me. So, I want that to get better and better; machines understanding what we mean, so that we can eventually communicate with them as our best, most trusted friends that know our own hearts and souls better than other humans.
Reddit User: Hi! First off, you are my greatest idol 🙂 I was wondering, why did you leave Apple? (Thanks in advance!)
Steve Wozniak: Hi Clyde, thanks. I left Apple partly because i wanted to be, like, a normal person. I didn’t want to seek wealth and power, because in my mind it often corrupts people, and I didn’t want to be that person who runs a company. The first time I left Apple was an odd accident. I had a plane crash as a pilot. I didn’t come out of an amnesia state for five weeks where I didn’t know time was passing. When I came out of the amnesia I realized that the Macintosh team (they were my favorite, most creative thinking team at Apple, and I was on that team), would be fine without me.
So I called up Steve Jobs and told him “Macintosh team’s in great shape, I’m gonna go back to college and get my degree.” I had one year left to go. If I waited another year it would be too late to ever go back to college again actually. So I went back to Berkeley under the fake name Rocky Raccoon Clark, and that’s what it says on my Berkeley diploma. That was the first time I left Apple. I came back and worked as an engineer. When the Macintosh project failed we had to recover with some Apple II projects, took us into the Apple IIGS to keep some money coming into the company for a while as we built the Macintosh market. And then I left the second time because I love startups. I love just a group of two or three or five people talking about an idea and going out and making it a reality. It may not be all the millions and billions of dollars in the world, but it’s something you’re doing yourself. The idea I came up with was for the first universal remote control, the CL 9 Core, so I left Apple to build that.”