In the beginning, there were two guys who invented the personal computer: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Jobs was the genius marketer, Wozniak the genius programmer. Thirty years after the first Macintosh appeared, we caught up with Steve Wozniak to talk about what’s exciting him – and scaring him – about the world of technology.
First, the frightening part: the transformation of the Internet from a bastion of freedom of speech and association to a more institutionalized and commercialized entity. “The Internet seemed to be the most beautiful thing ever in the history of mankind," Wozniak says, "It made us so free, it was like a new planet of people.”
But in an age when the Internet has become more omnipresent and, of course, more profitable, that has changed. “Now the Internet, because it’s electronic, is very easy to use in ways that actually end up controlling us more. I’m very worried about that, because there’s no way to turn it back,” he says.
Which new technologies on the horizon excite him most? Wozniak points to artificial intelligence as the new frontier to watch, especially the ability of machines to understand and respond to natural human speech. The way advances will be made in this field, he hypothesizes, might be entirely accidental. “We never invented the Internet to be a brain. That was not the intent,” he says, noting that now, powerful search engines can essentially perform many brain functions. “We’ll probably stumble on things like real consciousness the same way."
To be fair, however, some of the powerful possibilities of artificial intelligence frighten Steve Wozniak too – especially the prospect that machines will make humans obsolete altogether. “They’ll be doing all the work and we won’t be needed much, “ he says. “Maybe we’ll be treated pretty well, like family dogs, I don’t know. I’m hoping we don’t get there!”
To hear more from Woz – including his take on the eight years he spent teaching and how it shaped his views on reforming education – tune in to our full interview, above.