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Steve Wozniak on AI Hype, Tesla and What Movies Get Wrong

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, shared his story and set the record straight at Civo Navigate's conference Tuesday.
Feb 11th, 2023 5:00am by
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Image by Loraine Lawson.

TAMPA, Fla. — Steve Wozniak bought into the hype about artificial intelligence for a while. But now he’s skeptical it will ever reach anything approaching the human brain.

“Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates [were] all saying sort of the same things: The biggest fear we have as humans is technology getting that advanced, and I said I’m a good company,” Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, told conference goers Tuesday at Civo Navigate.

“Then my son, my really brilliant son, convinced me I was wrong. No, we’re just building new technologies, just the high end of today’s technologies that can help humans, and we’re never going to let it overtake us anyway.”

A computer can try something a billion times — no human could do that — and finds the best way to perform a task and we call it “intelligence,” Wozniak said, but it’s following a human’s instructions.

“Can you actually recreate a brain? I was at a company where the engineers figured out how to create a brain for real — takes nine months,” he said to delayed laughter as the audience caught on. “We can program in a bunch of algorithms, but it’s not going to be like a real thing. No person is predictable. …We call it [intelligence] but it’s not like intelligence, because it doesn’t have the emotions.”

On Tesla and Lucid Electric Cars

Wozniak is also disillusioned with electric cars made by Tesla and Lucid, having owned both, he said. He and his wife both enjoy long road trips but he said the Tesla would jerk and act unpredictably. It also had bad navigation, he added.

“I’m very, very skeptical of Tesla — [it] has lied and I’ve dropped so much money on it,” he said. “My wife and I upgraded to the version with a camera that will, as Elon Musk said, drive itself across the country by the end of 2016.”

He looked at his watch dramatically.

“And then we realized right away it couldn’t see a small kid in front of a car and couldn’t do any of that, even come close to it. The next year, [Musk] said we’ve got new sensors, eight cameras. They fired their sensor company. The sensor company couldn’t do what they want. Eight cameras will drive itself across the country by the end of 2017.”

Another dramatic look at the watch.

“If you have a Tesla, navigation is so horrible, but it tells you to turn when it’s too late it or doesn’t give you really good advice like a human would,” Wozniak said. “You drive a Tesla and you can say, ‘Take me from here to there.’ And when it tries on its own, well, just giving them ‘Stay in the lanes steering,’ it makes so many horrible mistakes. You have to grab control quickly, hit the brakes.”

Tesla cars also aren’t trained for any of the unusual things that might be in the roadway — like a tire — or for the unusual things other drivers might do, he added.

As for Lucid, he sent the company two pages of notes about what was wrong with its user interface and the rest of the car after a few weeks of driving. Initially, Lucid resisted allowing him to return the vehicle — to be fair, it had been hit by a drunk driver on the second day he owned it, but was repaired. But then his wife told the company that they would just sell Wozniak’s two-page critique of their product on eBay. Lucid canceled the sale and took the car back.

“We talk like we’ve made a lot of progress but we’re not there like a human,” he said.

He’s now awaiting a new electric Mercedes, but he misses the borrowed Toyota RAV4 he drove while the Lucid was in the shop.

“They gave us this little RAV4 gasoline car, the old gasoline, and it took Apple CarPlay for navigation and it’s the most wonderful week,” he said. “I keep telling my wife that I would drive a RAV4 anyway, gasoline, whatever.”

Setting the Record Straight

Wozniak amused the audience with stories about his childhood growing up around other “electronic kids,” his first attempts at designing computers — all on paper because he couldn’t afford the chips — and his college years.

Wikipedia claims that Wozniak was expelled from the University of Colorado Boulder because he hacked their system, but he told it differently. He was enrolled in a graduate-level course, where he ran all kinds of programs, not realizing the class had a budget, he said. They finally stopped running his program when it turned out the class had gone $50,000 over budget on its compute usage.

He didn’t return to the university after that for fear they’d make him pay for the cost overruns, and instead attended a community college for two years. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley after Apple launched and he survived a plane crash.

Wozniak also shared several stories about jokes and pranks he likes to play. For instance, he makes little booklets out of $2 bills and pays with them, which often makes people suspect he’s using counterfeit bills — a misconception he largely encourages. He also wears a Covid mask decorated with a grey beard and smiling mouth that matches his real face.

“I’m Steve Wozniak, only my mouth doesn’t move when I talk,” he said, wearing the mask.

He also set the record straight on a few other things, including how he came to make the Apple I and II. Movies sometimes get it wrong when it comes to the roles he and Steve Jobs played in setting up Apple computers, he told the audience. For instance, one movie shows Jobs finding Wozniak in a basement and dragging him out to a club to show everyone there his newly designed computer.

Actually, Wozniak said, he was the one who brought a computer to the club.

“What the heck?” he said, about the movie’s historical inaccuracy. “I’d been at that club every day since it started. Steve had never been there once.”

Civo paid for Loraine Lawson’s travel and accommodations to attend the conference.

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