As part of the Audi Speakers Forum, Steve Wozniak (or "Woz," as he's often called) was in Toronto for a Q&A session with CBC Television host Dwight Drummond. The Apple co-founder wasn't there to speak to a specific event or new technology, but to provide his insight on both past and present technologies.
Apple's late CEO Steve Jobs, of course, co-founded the company with Wozniak and Ronald Wayne. And while Jobs was the face of the company, it was Wozniak who was credited with building one of the first personal computers, which ultimately became the Apple I in 1976.
Following some media questions on the red carpet, Wozniak sat down with Drummond in front of a live audience at the Four Seasons Hotel.
One of the topics discussed was autonomous driving. When asked about the infrastructure necessary to support the technology, Wozniak pointed to the need for vehicles to speak the same language, much like computers already do.
Photo: courtesy of Audi
"Some people talk about having charging wires along the freeways, but the infrastructure is too huge to imagine that change happening before electric and autonomous cars have come and gone," he told WiFi HiFi on the red carpet. "Cars talking to each other - there will be steps in between where cars help you as a human drive safer, but eventually the cars will communicate to know what's coming up and what to avoid."
Wozniak likened the situation to how air traffic controllers use radar to identify incoming and outgoing planes, when transponders on all aircraft might have been equally effective. Lidar is one of the methods automakers are currently experimenting with on autonomous vehicles because of how it uses pulsed light to measure distance and range. That would be one technology that could theoretically enable vehicles to "talk" to each other.
"It is going to be so amazing on the day when some company comes out with a car that has no steering wheel," he added. "You can sit down, do some work on the computer and talk with friends. Will a window even be necessary?"
His musings shifted to what he perceives as an eroding need for ownership in younger generations, like streaming media and ride-sharing. Feeling an attachment to every car he's owned, Wozniak wonders about a world where millennials may not even care to own a vehicle, especially living in a big city.
While chatting with Drummond, Wozniak reminisced about building the Apple I and Apple II, and his reputation for using technology to pull pranks on unsuspecting victims in college. A particularly memorable one he recalled to the audience - and that earned a few laughs - was when he built a transistor disguised in a black marker. He used it to consistently disrupt TV sets in the school, thereby forcing other students to either hit the sets or sit and stand awkwardly to ensure a clean signal when viewing content.
A significant portion of the discussion centred on another hot tech topic: artificial intelligence. Having been a Siri user prior to Apple's acquisition of the app the now-famous voice assistant was based on, Wozniak said his life "changed" when he realized how powerful such technology could be in the future.
"The future of artificial intelligence is being able to understand human things," he said. "We tried to build a computer back then that was intuitive enough so you knew what to do with it once you saw it. Having a machine be intuitive enough to know what a human needs or wants is something else."
This marks something of a sea change in opinion for Wozniak, who had previously stated in interviews that advanced AI could be "scary" or "dangerous." Now, he sees it as complementary to humans, particularly because self-awareness and desire would still be intrinsically human traits.
Naturally, the question on everyones' minds was: how does Wozniak view Apple today?
"It's either an iPhone or a phone," he opined. "I was showing people the Samsung Galaxy S3 back when it came to market because it proved to me that you had two platforms (iOS and Android) that really did the same things, breaking it down to a simple choice for consumers. I wasn't excited about the Apple Watch because my phone already does the same things, but then I got to like the convenience of moving my wrist to present a boarding pass, movie ticket and pay for stuff. Apple commands higher prices and sales through a brand."
Photo at top by Ted Kritsonis