Steve Wozniak's mind is a busy place, and it moves very, very fast. The man himself can struggle to keep up.
But the Apple co-founder isn’t too proud to ask for help reorienting himself after an enthusiastic digression: More than once April 4 he asked his CU-Boulder interviewers, “So, what was the question?”
In a nearly 90-minute appearance on the first evening of the 68th Conference on World Affairs, Wozniak (ElEngr ex’72, HonDocSci’89) addressed a dizzying array of topics: Bob Dylan, self-driving cars, primary education, jokes in Japanese, the the A-plus he got in CU's “Introduction to Computers” course, his weakness for Apple’s App Store and (of course) his early days with fellow Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
The Woz also volunteered his personal equation for happiness: “H = f-cubed: food, fun, friends.”
Wozniak reconfirmed a central rumor about his year as a CU-Boulder student, as a freshman in 1968-69: Yes, he did unwittingly run up an astonishing bill for the university through heavy use of CU’s early computing equipment.
But there was nothing clandestine about his computer programs, he said: “I ran them under my own matriculation number.”
And he didn’t hack any computers at CU, and hasn't anywhere else, he said.
Still, Wozniak suggested that his extracurricular computing adventures were a reason he didn’t return to campus for sophomore year: “I was afraid to go back.”
In 1969 Wozniak returned to California and within a decade had invented the Apple I and co-founded Apple the company with Jobs. Wozniak eventually graduated from the University of California, Berkeley.
The Woz recalled CU and Boulder fondly, noting that a trip to Boulder as a high school senior was his first outside California and that CU was the only university where he sought admission.
“This campus has meant so much to me in my life,” he said. “…I spoke of it so highly that two of my own children went here.”
The value of his own year here should not be underestimated, either: “There wouldn’t be an Apple without this campus," he said.
On Monday evening at about 7:15 the inventor took to the Macky Auditorium stage in sneakers, black slacks and what appeared to be a long-sleeve black athletic shirt. He faced a large and adoring audience that included openly star-struck students. “I can’t believe I’m talking to you,” one said during a question-and-answer period.
Enthusiastic, voluble and seemingly unfiltered, Wozniak took questions on stage from two student interviewers, Briana Johnson (Engr’16) and Anneliese Wilson (Anth’16). His appearance was sponsored by the student-led CU Cultural Events Board.
Asked about robots, Wozniak mused at length — about whether they’ll eventually take over all human work (maybe, “but that’s far off”), about whether he himself could be replaced by a robot (“maybe, in 200 years”) and about whether robots could ever have “the human element,” as a student put it (“I’m a little afraid of that.”)
Wozniak’s rule of thumb is that “we should always be friends with the robots.”
Of Steve Jobs, whom Wozniak met as a teenager and who died in 2011, Wozniak said that he “didn’t know computer technology” and that he was more interested in business than in technology. When Wozniak wanted to donate the first model of Apple’s first computer to an elementary school, “He made me buy it for 300 bucks.”
But Wozniak said Jobs’ comparative computer ignorance was a business asset, because Jobs demanded attractive products that were simple to use.
Wozniak also gave readers glimpses of his everyday life, referring to “my Prius,” feeding steak fillets to the family dog, and emphasizing that his children attended public schools.
He also let on that he was making the most of his latest visit to Boulder. The night before, he’d attended a Joanna Newsom concert at the Boulder Theater.
Music, said Wozniak, is the “magic dust of love.”
Photo by Glenn Asakawa