It wasn't the money: Wozniak on robots, design, and Apple's origins

The Apple co-founder has a lot to say about technology's past and future



More than 40 years after founding Apple Computer, Steve Wozniak has a lot to say about the early days of the world's richest company -- and about technology, learning, and being a born engineer.

On stage at the IEEE TechIgnite conference in Burlingame, California, on Wednesday, he gave a glimpse into how a tech legend thinks.

On open source

In the early Seventies, Wozniak read about phone phreaking, in which "phreakers" made free phone calls by using electronics to mimic the tones used for dialing each number. To learn how to do it, he went to the only place he knew that had books and magazines about computers: The Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. He went on a Sunday and walked right in. "The smartest people in the world don't lock doors," Wozniak said.

A similar philosophy led him to give away his design for what later became the Apple 1. After drawing up plans that would let people build their own computer for US$300, he handed them out at the Homebrew Computer Club, an early gathering place for tinkerers who helped launched the PC revolution. He didn't even include copyright notices. "My motivation wasn't to start a company, wasn't to make money, it was actually just to show off my engineering excellence," he said. It was a non-engineer friend, Steve Jobs, who persuaded him to monetize both phreaking and the personal computer.

On resourcefulness

Wozniak always sought to build things with not only the fewest parts but also the cheapest ones. After learning about phreaking, he set out to build a machine for it in his dorm room. "I bought a sack of diodes at Radio Shack that weren't guaranteed. And about half of them were bad, but I didn't know which half. ... When a tone didn't work on my box, I would go to this guy who had perfect pitch. He was a musician in the next room over."

On myths and movies:

The early days of Apple are the stuff of legend and pop culture now, but not all the stories are true, according to Wozniak. One is a scene in the Ashton Kutcher film "Jobs" in which Jobs pushes Bob Dylan on a Beatles-loving Wozniak. When they met, Jobs was 16 and had no music albums at home, Wozniak said. "I"m the one who introduced Steve Jobs to all this Bob Dylan stuff." The two ended up going to many concerts and collecting bootleg recordings and analyses of Dylan's lyrics.

On robotics:

If he were young today, Wozniak would go into robotics. He wants to design a robot that could go into a house it doesn't know, find the kitchen on its own, and figure out how to make coffee.

He's not too worried about the machines taking over.

"It's getting scary the direction it's heading, but it'll take a long, long time before there's something like a master race over humans. They'll need us," Wozniak said.

On education:

Wozniak, who has worked as a grade-school teacher, said motivation is more important than knowledge from books or teachers. "If you want to learn something, you'll get there," he said. It's good for children to learn programming, but they should wait until age 12 for their brains to mature, he said.

On his dream job:

Before he and Jobs founded Apple, Wozniak offered his PC designs to Hewlett-Packard, where he worked on the company's legendary calculators. He didn't want to risk that position by starting a new company. The fifth time HP turned him down, he reluctantly left.

Forty years later, in a very different Silicon Valley, the job of Wozniak's dreams is a poignant vision: "I was going to be an engineer forever at Hewlett-Packard, because you could get old and still be an engineer there. How lucky for me! I would never lose my job at HP."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?