By James Grundvig, CEO and Co-Founder of Myntum Ltd
Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, in one hour told his career arc, why he’s down on social media in its current form, why he doesn’t invest or had ever run the business side of a company, and why Bitcoin and blockchain will succeed: Decentralized math-based networks, which remove biased, fallible, and manipulative human elements, are cool to him.
In a fireside chat with NEX CEO Michael Spencer at the NEX technology conference in New York, Wozniak crushed it. Apple, with Steve Jobs, wasn’t a startup in today’s sense of the word or even from the Dot Com era. It was an eight-year out of their homes—“not the garage”—teen operation that ended up financed by an angel investor. They were three equal partners with “equal shares,” different skillsets, and polar opposite personalities.
Wozniak was a tinkerer and a deep technology thinker. In his childhood, he took televisions apart to see how they worked. He told the rapt audience that he wrote computer specifications on weekends, because “that’s all I could afford,” in a day when computer books and guides didn’t really exist or weren't readily available. He recalled managing to log on to the proto-Internet when there were only six universities that stored and shared files in a crude digital room, which included top schools in California and Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York.
While Apple Computer was a side project, Steve worked at HP. There, he tinkered and explored in the engineering department. As he became more knowledgeable about how computers worked, probably feeling Apple the startup was a long shot; he went to HP management and offered to build them a personal computer. “And five times HP turned me down,” he said. But his idea wouldn’t be denied.
At Atari, over four sleepless nights thinking and solving away, he came up with the idea that for “zero dollars”—as opposed to $5,000 it cost back then—he brought color to the Atari games, which was a major breakthrough in technology back in the 1970s.
Blockchain to Replace Social Networks
Steve Wozniak admitted that today he is too old to be coding and inventing, and that domain is “meant for young people” who are neither clouded nor hindered by older people’s views of the world. He also told the audience: “I don’t invest.”
On Facebook, Steve said, “For three months I was an active user. But no more.” He is down on Facebook, in a big way, and social media, in general, because protecting the privacy of users isn’t a core tenet for Web 2.0 platforms.
For the same reason, Wozniak has been weaning himself off of Google, explaining, “I use Duck-Duck-Go for all my search and my email rejects other peoples’ Gmail when they send it.”
His sharpest rebuke on Facebook came when he told the audience that a decentralized, blockchain-based network with no central authority will “replace social networks.” He then reminded the audience that today Apple protects the privacy of its users and customers.
Bitcoin, Blockchain and the Future of Tech
Steve is big on Bitcoin. He wished he could transact on it more. When he traveled, he sought out hotels and places where he could spend cryptocurrency. But last December, when Bitcoin price soared to $20,000, he sold almost all of his Bitcoin because he felt it began to act more like an investment and not as a digital currency. “Today, I have one Bitcoin.”
Wozniak loved the “decentralized and totally trustworthy” aspect of Bitcoin and its finite number, and that it’s all math based, and that it is immutable. For the same reason, Steve likes blockchain technology. And although he sees the market today as a bit frothy, perhaps leading to a bubble, he said, “It doesn’t change in a day, a lot of the blockchain ideas that are really good by coming out early they can burn themselves out by not being prepared to be stable in the long run.”
In other words, new blockchain, AI-driven companies that don’t exist yet, in a few years, they can remake the landscape of business processes and consumer behavior in very big ways.
In the end, Steve Wozniak is a practical, down to earth problem solver. He uses logic when he explores new technology advancements today, such as the Ethereum network. He’s not sold on quantum computing—“it’s not stable at minus one degree Kelvin”—and even less sold on Ray Kurzweil’s idea of computers achieving the “singularity” moment.
Steve said, that a non-speaking “one-year-old baby can recognize a dog” but that a computer might never be able to see and recognize objects the way humans do.