Steve Wozniak says that AI may have limits

Steve Wozniak is a big proponent of artificial intelligence, but during a talk on April 17 at Purdue University’s Elliott Hall of Music, he said it does have limits.

 Steve WozniakThe co-founder of Apple Inc. spoke before an audience that filled the main floor of Elliott as part of Purdue’s Ideas Festival, the centerpiece of the University’s Giant Leaps Sesquicentennial Campaign. An Ideas Festival themes is “Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms and Automation,” and Wozniak’s conversation with Mung Chiang, the John A. Edwardson Dean of the College of Engineering, focused on “What IF we lose control of Technology?”

After Chiang began the event by taking a selfie with Wozniak, he asked him about the possibility of machines eventually being like human beings and doing jobs humans now do.

“We should strive for machines that can do what humans do, but I don’t think we’ll do it,” Wozniak said. “I used to think that we would, but I don’t think artificial intelligence can help us do some things. I don’t worry about the human brain being replaced. We do not know how the human brain is wired. I was a psychology major in college and studied the brain. We don’t really understand the structure of the brain, and without knowing the structure, you can’t figure out how the brain works.”

Wozniak, who said he taught himself how to design any computer while he was still in high school, also has doubts about self-driving automobiles. When asked about the biggest challenge to making self-driving cars the norm, he said, “If you drive across America, the roads are so different, so random that I don’t think we’ll ever have them. Roads are built by humans who are not as good as nature and mathematics, and even evolution.”

Wozniak does utilize AI, and even has a pair of AI Nike shoes. “You tighten the shoes by talking to your phone, you tie your shoes the same way. The only problem is that, at night, you have to use your phone to untie and loosen your shoes. If you’re having a problem with your phone, or if you forgot to pay your phone account, it could cause problems,” he said to laughter.

“You always want local backups besides the cloud for artificial intelligence. If the cloud isn’t working, they should have a local way to make something work.” Steve Wozniak

Widely recognized as a pioneer of the personal computer revolution, Wozniak is an inventor, engineer, programmer, philanthropist and technology entrepreneur. He co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs and launched the personal computer revolution.

Wozniak touched on many other issues, and told some stories, during his wide-ranging discussion with Chiang. And then he took questions from the audience that extended his appearance by a half-hour. Some highlights:

  • Apple’s 1984 TV commercial during the Super Bowl XVIII. Wozniak and Jobs had no idea the minute-long ad that helped launch Apple’s Macintosh personal computer would one day ring true, Wozniak said. The ad was set in a dystopian world controlled by “Big Brother,” indirectly referencing the classic George Orwell novel, “1984.” Wozniak and Jobs introduced the Macintosh two days after the Super Bowl.
  • Wozniak recounted how, while a student at the University of California, Berkley, he designed and then, with Jobs, sold blue boxes. The small devices built in the 1960s and ‘70s were used to hijack analog phone systems for free calls. Wozniak read about blue boxes in an Esquire magazine story. He and Jobs snuck into the library at Stanford University to find the technical information they needed to build one. He built several of them, and it proved lucrative as well as fun.

“We sold the blue boxes door to door in the dorms at UC Berkeley,” he recounted. “When I called my relatives long distance, I did it on my own phone and paid for it. But I called things like dial-a-joke in Australia, and I made a hotel reservation in Japan. One time I called the Vatican and said that I was Henry Kissinger (secretary of state at the time), that I was with (President) Richard Nixon at the summit in Moscow and that I wanted to talk with the pope. I used a German accent like Kissinger, but it was 5 a.m. there and they said he wouldn’t be awake for another hour. I called back an hour later, and I got as far as the bishop who would have been the translator. He said the pope had just talked to the real Kissinger. I said, ‘OK, I just wanted to make a confession.’”

  • In response to an audience member asking if there is a limit to technology, Wozniak said, “We don’t have a say now. It’s like science, it’s like math, it’s learning. You study and study. You study the atom and you end up with the atom bomb.”
  • Engineering and entrepreneurship are a good match. “You better build your business plan with an engineer. They’re smart and can help you build a better company,” he said to an engineering student in the audience. “Engineers being entrepreneurs is great, but work for a company first if you need money to do your idea.”

Wozniak was enthusiastically received by the audience, which laughed frequently throughout the event.

“I thought he was great,” said Jonathan Lowe, a junior from Kansas City studying mechanical engineering. “He started Apple because he was passionate about it; he didn’t start it to make a lot of money. He started building computers in high school because he enjoyed it. He didn’t say this, but what I got out of it is that if you find what your passion is, spend time on it and do it well, you’ll be successful.”

Osama Al-Kayyali agreed. “I really liked it,” said the sophomore from Dubai majoring in mechanical engineering. “The main thing was that he focused on the limits of technology, where it stops and how far it can go. And he gave us the insights of a person who is an expert.”


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