My most recent invention is a Segway key programmer. It's for the Segway, which is a two-wheel, self-balancing transportation device. It is a small project, but I did it to the standards that I always employed in the old days. I had a startup company a few years ago that developed a GPS tracking system. I had developed a remote control way back in the late '80s that was the first universal remote control.
Which are your most cherished inventions, Apple I and Apple II?
The one that I loved the most among my designs is the Segway key program, believe it or not. The floppy disk drive for the Apple II, also. I did it incredibly quickly, incredibly differently than anyone had ever done it before. I just made it as perfect as it could be. The Apple II was probably my greatest invention. I came up with a lot of very strange ideas of how to do things that were very complicated, but to do them very simply with very low cost and all in one computer. So many things in one computer that nobody ever expected, it set the tone for what a personal computer would be forever. That's probably my greatest invention. Along with Apple I, it changed the world of computers from ugly impersonal front panels. And the world changed that day and never went back.
I also invented a video terminal for the Apple I with which I had access to early Arpanet, the forerunner of today's Internet. And I developed a video game for Atari in an extremely short period. I designed "blue boxes" that could make free calls all over the world by emitting tones into a telephone. I designed lot of calculator chips for Hewlett-Packard scientific calculators... It's so hard to say, you know, the list goes on and on. I had a full engineering life, even though it was time to slow down at about age of 30.
I heard you are interested in the field of robotics, is that right?
Yes, I am.
I personally find some robots pretty scary -- especially those projected for the Department of Defense. Do you think the Terminator age is close or the age of intelligent machines is coming?
It is coming, but it's coming very slowly. These machines that seem to walk really have a special requirement. The way a human being walks is still almost impossible to copy. ... Every one of these robots will kind of do one thing well, but we never will see a robot that makes a cup of coffee, never. I don't believe we will ever see it.
I hope you're right.
Think of the steps that a human being has to do to make a cup of coffee and you have covered basically 10, 20 years of your lifetime just to learn it. So for a computer to do it the same way, it has to go through the same learning, walking to a house using some kind of optical with a vision system, stepping around and opening the door properly, going down the wrong way, going back, finding the kitchen, detecting what might be a coffee machine. You can't program these things, you have to learn it, and you have to watch how other people make coffee. ... This is a kind of logic that the human brain does just to make a cup of coffee. We will never ever have artificial intelligence. Your pet, for example, your pet is smarter than any computer.
Do you have any unfulfilled dream, like having grandchildren? Which would be the virtues and values you teach them?
I have three children and I'm careful not to influence their values with my own. ... [I want them to be] kind with other people and make friends, get their own influences, and I'm going to help them go in those directions. That's how I was raised and I believe it's great to raise my children in that way. And I'm sure I'll have grandchildren before too long. That's the whole aspect of having kids.
But again, do you have any unfulfilled dreams?
To get 750,000 points on Game Boy "Tetris." [Laughs.] Also, I have a long dream to build my own house in a very energy- efficient approach. That's going to be very soon. It uses the right kind of wood that serves as a heater and as an air conditioner, combined with some other techniques in how the wood is assembled to operate energy life pressure. You don't have to add energy into a house after you build it. I love that concept. It's like the way I used to make computers. I want to build it myself. That's a project that could be finished this summer, next summer, but not too far from now.