Sillicon Valley icon Steve Wozniak has a special place in the hearts of computer geeks for creating Apple’s first line of computers. Alongside partner Steve Jobs, Wozniak was the technical expert, and his seemingly unlimited capacity for coming up with great ideas and making them a reality has always set him apart. Apple I, Apple II and the Macintosh are among the products he created for Apple back in its early days, not long after the two best friends were working out of a garage.
On Tuesday, Wozniak was in Jakarta to speak at a seminar on innovation and creativity at Balai Kartini. He shared his insights from four decades in the tech industry. Besides creating the first Apple products, he also invented the first universal remote control. He’s also chief scientist at Fusion-io, the first company to replace hard drives with chips, allowing for thinner, faster gadgets.
As the brain behind Apple, Wozniak was named by the company’s first chief executive Michael Scott as Apple employee number one and Jobs number two, although rumor has it that Jobs always referred to himself as number zero.
In an interview with Wozniak on Monday, the tech wizard told the Jakarta Globe that he would prefer life as a technologist to life as a businessman. “I don’t really enjoy working in a big company,” he said. “I would rather make things than decide things for a company.”
How do you think the younger generation can contribute to the technology industry given all the tech gadgetry that already exists?
People like myself look back and we often say that what we did become so big in the world that you can really do anything important without having the big company and the money anymore. And then along come things that we never thought of, like Facebook or Twitter.
As I travel the world, everywhere I go, I run into young people that are like Steve Jobs and myself when we were starting Apple. They have ideas for great apps on mobile products, working with the front end of computers and data centers. They are putting together projects for almost everything we do in life, and these are changing life.
What are today’s keys for tech innovation?
The main key comes from people who have a personality that is innovative. Oddly enough, it starts out from wanting to be an innovator when you’re young, but that implies that you gotta say ‘I’ve gotta do things differently than people have done before.’ When you go to school, you are taught that intelligence and the right answers and the best grades are from learning things that other people have done in the past, not from thinking out your own solutions. So sometimes it’s a very shy person that’s not socially out there talking to people and going to parties. Shy people think a lot in their brain.
Brains can be very creative, but if you only say what you think is right by other people’s terms, you won’t be that innovative person. So it’s important to recognize the sort of people that would be innovators, and to allow them to flourish in large companies. And to observe good ideas and not say, ‘That’s not how we do it.’
What kind of technology excites you with its potential for changing our lives?
All my life, I heard about this category called artificial intelligence, and every time I look at the research, it was tiny, little steps that work simulative programs of what we thought humans could do. We didn’t know how brains worked.
In recent times though, we find ourselves asking the most difficult questions to the computer, to Google, instead of asking humans that are smart. So part of the brain accidentally popped up in the Internet, and yet we did not design the Internet to be a brain. It was an accidental discovery. And we have computers that listen to questions and answer better than humans.
It’s still a tiny step, but we are on a path, the amount of information in a computer. We are in need of a greater processor and different architecture to make them that fast, but in a few decades, we are very likely to have a thinking bean in our pocket or our phones, and it is going to think better and faster than humans.
How did you and Steve Jobs manage to nurture such a loyal following?
I think the loyal following that we have today and from early days [is because] we had the best computer. It didn’t come out of a company but from two young people who worked in a home. It’s an image that a lot of people liked, to feel that great things that are going to change our lives are going to come from little, unexpected areas, and not necessarily from big people who are already established.
The Macintosh computer was so different from any other type of computer before brought to the masses, and we had commercials and advertisements that were basically rebels, challenging everyone that thinks the same. And that attracted followers who are very loyal.
Why did you quit Apple? Was there a drive to innovate with other companies?
No, it was a total accident. I was on the Macintosh team and I had an airplane crash, and five weeks later I came [down] with amnesia. I did not start Apple to become a big, huge, rich person and make more products, I just wanted to build beautiful products for myself.
So I called Steve Jobs and said, this is my last chance to go back to college, and finish it and get my degree, which I did, under a fake name. Then I went back to Apple as an engineer, and I got a new idea for a new product that never existed. I love little, new startups.
So I left, and built the first universal remote control. And then I had children, and I got involved in philanthropy. I wasn’t a businessman, I was an engineer. I like technology, I like children, I actually taught young children at school for eight years secretly. Yes, I always wanted to be a teacher as well.
I stay very true to my ideal that I had when I was young, who I was. Life is fun. And running a company and worrying about everything going on is not fun. And I just wanted have a fun life no matter what. I don’t need money.