How Steve Wozniak Got Over His Fear of Robots Turning People Into Pets

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STEVE WOZNIAK IS one half of Silicon Valley’s most prototypical founder’s myth. But whereas Steve Jobs went on to define what it meant to be a modern founder—the turtleneck uniform, the keynote showmanship, the scorn for formal education and steamrolling managerial style—Woz just became a wealthier version of his former self. That is, a gigantic nerd.

In case you clicked this article out of blind curiosity, here’s a quick recap on Woz. He invented Apple’s first two computers. Which, incidentally, were the world’s first personal computers. Which means you—no matter if you’re logged into a Mac, PC, smartphone, or Xbox—owe him a debt of gratitude for actualizing the notion that anyone (everyone, really) could and should own a computer.

And sure, Woz has capitalized on his fame. But he also spends an inordinate amount of his money and time promoting personal passions, like comic books. For three years running, Wozniak has hosted the Silicon Valley Comic-Con in San Jose. This year’s event runs from April 21 to 23. The event takes a wide lens to nerdiness: It has the requisite cosplay, William Shatner photo-ops, and scheduled debates over whether Marvel or DC has more powerful superheroes. But it also features panels on neural prostheses, real life laser weapons, and NASA’s efforts to develop deep space life support systems. WIRED chatted with Woz about nerd-dom, his thoughts on the future of computing, and why he no longer fears our robot overlords.

Why did you carve out such a large space for science fact in SVCC?
All my great work for Apple was so different than from what everyone else was trying, and that’s just a trademark of mine. I don’t wanna do just another Comic-Con. I just want it to be good, not make money. I thought, well why don’t we bring in a mixture of technology and science? I’m the sort of person who not only likes to go see a superhero movie, but am also very curious if we ever get close to making those super powers.

A few years ago you warned that artificially intelligent robots would turn humans into their pets. This week, you said you had changed your mind. How did you get over this fear?

This originally started as I was extrapolating the ways that you can talk to your phone, and the ways it talks back. It’s becoming more like a person. What if this trend continues, and the AI develops conscious-type thinking? That worried me, and I spoke about it for a couple years, and was joined by smart people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. But then I started thinking about a lot of the issues that come along with making an AI. We don’t really even know what intelligence is. You have a lot of people who study the brain, and all they can say is some processes are governed in certain places. But they don’t know how all those processes are wired together. They don’t even know where memory is stored!

So, I’m not convinced that we’re really going to get to the point where they really can make an artificial brain. Not at the general level human brains work, like with intuition. A computer could figure out a logical endpoint decision, but that’s not the way intelligence works in humans. Well, I’m not gonna say they cannot do it. But every bit of tech we’ve ever built is for helping people in different ways. Technology is designed to be something good in life. So, I believe optimistically that the robots we’re building are going to help us have better human lives.

You are famous for kicking off the PC revolution, which kicked off the smartphone revolution. What do you see as the next culture-sweeping technological innovation?

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