Interview: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak set for keynote address at Turing Festival
Computer pioneer talks on the art of technology at Edinburgh festival
This article is from 2012.
Ahead of his keynote address at the Turing Festival, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, speaks to Gail Tolley about fostering entrepreneurial spirit, the opportunities technology offers in the arts and being an artist of a different kind.
Creativity and entrepreneurial spirit have long coursed through the veins of Edinburgh each August but before the arrival of the Turing Festival this rarely took the form of cutting-edge thinking in computing and technology. That’s been more than compensated for this year though with the news that Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak will be giving the Festival’s keynote address.
In the context of the world’s largest arts festival Wozniak is an exciting presence in the city, highlighting the close relationship between creativity in technology and creativity in the arts.
In the early seventies Wozniak designed and built the operating system for what would become the Apple I. In 1976 he quit his job at Hewlett Packard and along with Steve Jobs formed Apple Computer, which would go on to be a key player in the development of the PC.
‘When we started I was actually termed an artist but of a different type,’ Wozniak explains. ‘The type who knew how to take chips and circuits and the way I connected wires was like a very fine artist or a very fine musician, better than almost any other human being could do. That was a different type of art inside, you don’t see that art very much anymore.’
Such an appreciation of the art of technology has defined Apple, a company which more than any other encapsulates the possibilities of impeccable design working hand-in-hand with the best in engineering. ‘From the very start one of the things we were into was a type of aesthetics that were a technical aesthetics of making things very simple, very usable.’ Wozniak says. ‘It’s very different in the way a lot of engineers think and we got noted for that, it became a part of our culture. It’s how things look to the eye that communicate little keys about how we use them very quickly. So visual aesthetics has always been very important to Apple.’
Alongside his defining work with Apple Wozniak has also worked as a teacher and supported many educational initiatives. Having dropped out of Berkeley before finishing his degree, Wozniak is acutely aware of the limitations that the education system offers in fostering entrepreneurial thinking and he believes that in the future technology might hold the answer here too. ‘The student who’s trying to think creatively or working inwardly trying to figure things out in minute detail, that’s the sort of person that gets ignored. Often that kind of creative person isn’t recognised in school. At school you get taught that there’s always one right answer and it’s not your right answer, it came out of a book. A lot of people just grew up too rigidly. That’s a problem with today’s education and I hope it changes someday when computers become human enough to be real teachers.’ It’s only then, he believes, will students will be able to have the individual attention in the classroom that’s really needed.
Through teaching he also has seen the opportunities that technology offers for his students interested in the arts. ‘Artists always were looking for new ways to explore things but they were restricted by the physical media they had to use. Now with computers the media can be virtual or augmented reality. In other words you don’t have to obey the laws of physics. You see a lot of this happening in the game world for example.’
So what can we expect from Wozniak’s Edinburgh event? The creation of Apple, the development of the personal computing project and ideas of creativity and entrepreneurship are all on the cards. ‘I’m going to give examples of creativity and talk about the importance of engineering and technologists and how easy it is to do something the second time and not the first time. I especially want to focus more than anything else on the future of technology as I see it.’ And that in itself sounds like a vision worth listening to.
Steve Wozniak is speaking at Edinburgh Playhouse, 23 Aug as part of the Turing Festival.