|★ PEOPLES ★ STEVE WOZNIAK (1984) ★|
|Steve Jobs - 1984||Steve Wozniak - 1984|
No, it's not a game — it's a name. The name of the man who, by inventing the personal computer, started This Whole Thing. JENNY PARROTT went on-line to Mr Apple...
IF STEVE WOZNIAK were to walk by you on the street he would hardly rate a second glance. If he were to brush against you in a video games arcade he would seem like any other laid-back Californian hooked on binary.
Perhaps the word which keeps springing to mind when thinking of Steve is "ordinary". After all, for a 33-year-old hippy-generation American he looks plain ordinary. He works for a large US corporation, has nis phone number in the book, and used to be very shy. His spare time is spent playing with computers or with his young son, while jogging and playing tennis keep nim active.
Yet underneath this unremarkable exterior hides a brilliant mind.
Back in 1975 — an era when major computer manufacturers still found it almost impossible to market software and had toresortto giving it away with the computers — Steve became responsible for the most tremendous shake-up in the computing industry yet seen.
He invented the first personal computer. Not only that, he worked on that prototype in a den in his garage until it was a better model. This latest creation became the Apple II, of which over a million have been sold since its launch in 1976. What is even more amazing is that Steve managed to design and build the machine totally single-handed, as well as developing all the electrical engineering and software himself at that stage.
So what is it that is so special about the Apple II?
Quite simply it was the first of a completely new genre. Not only did it look like a desirable gadget, butit was also relatively easy for the non-computer buff to get something up on the screen. Moreover it was affordable.
Steve explains how he sees it: "The first Apple computers were not even designed as products. They were justdesigned todemon-strate at the local show and there was no intent to start a company, or have a product or anything.
"We took a lot of very unusual steps with the Apple II. By this I mean it was the first computer ever sold in a plastic case, with built-in colour and graphics as standards. It was the first of the low cost computers where the keyboard and video display were standard. It also used the highest density RAMs of the day, so it was state-of-the-art and there were a lot of things about it that all the other computers were doing a different way.
"All I cared about was having a PC board on my floor and a bunch of wires connected to my keyboard. It was Steve Jobs who had the more far-reaching ideas of a product that could be sold, that could be taken out of a box already completely built and ready to be plugged into a wall, and then used to write a program.
"I thought pretty much as an engineer and a hobbyist and it was a good combination. But, you know, it is kind of like everything we did — just without knowing it at the time we had all the right things all together in one place and that is why we were successful."
Steve Jobs has been a strong influence in Steve's life since college days, always having the suss to get tne most out of Steve's wacky ideas.
While they were both studying Steve happened to read an article in a magazine which explained that certain tones sent along a telephone line by a device allowed the user to have
access to free phone calls. Naturally, Steve set about designing hisown version of this device and soon came up with a tool which enabled him to call all over the world for free. Steve Jobs became a partner and soon the pair were doing a lively trade selling this device to other students.
Not surprisingly the phone company was not too pleased and pointed out it was illegal — in fact they fined him heavily. "But when you are a school kid this word illegal sure does have a different meaning. It was not like doing something you could get punished for," Steve explains, although the end result was to turn his attentions to studying video and electronic circuits, terminals and modems.
"I think that one of my interests is essentially getting into some Artificial Intelligence research but I am not really involved in that yet. I am a little more earthy right now and am wondering what will make real sense to normal consumers in the next couple of years.
"Eventually I do want to look at artificial intelligence but not from the point of view of studying how it is done or by spending hundreds of man hoars writing some software. I want to find some clever trip. I think there has got to be some simple way by which you will write one little five-page program and that will allow the computer, based on all of its sensory inputs and all of its motor outputs, to learn."
He disputes the theory (rifein somequarters)thatif the software could only be good enough a computer would immediately be able to compete with humans in specific areas.
"Everybody thinks that if we are so smart and can figure out how a game like chess is played or how we speak a language then this knowledge can be programmed into a computer," says Steve.
"What they are forgetting is the fact that it taxes an entire lifetime to learn how to speak a language properly, and words used with certain looks and certain expressions will not necessarily mean the same to another person unless you have all grown up in the same world. Computers cannot be taught all that.
"How can a computer create music? After all for a person to decide what is good music involves all of the perceptions of our life, like all tne joys and the sadnesses, and theexhilara-tions. Thisis whatyou sense when music is being played and so a computer that has never lived a life could never make that judgement.
"So I think a computer basically needs a si mpie program that just allows it to accumulate knowledge very slowly throughout its life.
"But I will not try to define whatanintelligentmachine is to me, because it turns out that with any definition today the computer is nowhere near it. There is a thing called Tessler's law — which is actually named after a guy who works at Apple — which says that any time a function is thoughttobeintelligentand is then programmed into a computer, the definition of intelligence is modified to exclude it — and that has been going on for a couple of decades now," comments Steve.
Three years ago Steve had what you might call a bad year. His marriage fell apart. He was in a plane crash. And he finally faced up to the fact that he was not a "Run Over People type person or a Run An Organisation tvpe person".
He left Apple.
Throughout 1982 and cjuite a lot of 1983 he was the driving force behind two festivals aimed at proving that rock music and information technology could be soul-mates. How successful this attempt at fusing the two ideologies was is debatable. On the one hand Steve lost $21 million of his own fortune, but on the other some of the hundreds of thousands of people who attended the festivals DID make good use of the technology tent.
At any rate Steve looks on this period as a very positive phase of his life. So positive in fact, that last summer (1983) saw his return to Apple. But this time things are different, as he is working on his own as part of the engineering research and development team in Apple's personal computer system division.
From being tbe catalyst who revolutionised an entire industry his role has dwindled to that of a cog, admittedly a cog who can work in any direction he pleases — in a very large machine.
"There is a machine that I want to build thatcan calculate pi toa billion digits. And I know how to do it!
"I have also got some software projects I want to work on, and I could do pretty much all of this work at home. But I am here because I want to be part of Apple," Steve explains.
Idyllic as this may sound, in reality Steve is perhaps trying to blow out his bohemian image. Pi to a million digits or not, hisfirst work back at Apple is on major projects with a project direction defined by the marketing deépartment.
"But I really do want to do a couple of my own projects. I could not sit down and have them totally defined by the marketing deépartment
who are deciding what the people out there want. I'd rather look at the chips and see what the chips tell me to do," he adds.
'As a design style you start to look at the chips, the timing diagrams ana how many fancy special features they need to get higher performance. I find that the chips tell me how many dots there should be across the screen or what colours are needed much better than if I look at a person in their living room and ask yourself 'what do they want'."
As they say, Steve, "When the chips are down ..."
TALKING ABOUT games, Steve says: "Whether the people who write video and computer games are becoming stars in their own rights, I don't think the jury's in yet.
"The record company people that are consulting with software distributors feel that this is one of the many aspects which is going to be similar to the music business. And there has been some stardom for the video game software writers — you know, even I am in awe of some of them.
"Some companies arenow deliberately trying to make stars out of their software artists — but this process is still too disorganised and fragmentary. And although a lot of money is being spent in making stars, I still believe that the ones who write the best programs will be the ones who are going to be the stars and not the ones that the companies are focussing on."