Milwaukee welcomes ‘The Woz’

When Steve Wozniak was in high school, he trained himself to build any computer in about two days.

“And I still didn’t think I would have a job in computers,” Wozniak told reporters during Milwaukee’s Flying Car Conference on Friday.

Wozniak, who is co-founder of technology giant Apple Inc., chief scientist of Fusion-IO and a highly regarded engineer and inventor, keynoted the Flying Car Conference and opened up about his lifelong drive for innovation.

The three-year-old Flying Car Conference, created by the Greater Milwaukee Committee’s Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE) Initiative, convened Milwaukee leaders, entrepreneurs and inventors for conversations about the future and the need for both innovation and top-tier talent.

This year’s conference, which ran June 25-27 at venues across Milwaukee, followed the theme “People Powered” and played up “the human side of innovation” as it explored what exactly compels people to make great things happen.

In the technology world, Wozniak has perhaps made some of the greatest things happen. Largely thanks to his Apple I personal computer, Apple was able to take flight in 1976 with Wozniak and Steve Jobs in the driver seats.

Wozniak, fondly known as “The Woz,” also designed the company first line of products, the Apple I and II, and was an influential force in the development of the Macintosh.

While addressing reporters, Wozniak said electronic and computer technology has come to largely define innovation in our lifetime.

“Electronics has really been in our lifetime…really the big mover of how life changes and innovation and making the world different and making life different,” he said.

And while Silicon Valley has been a core instigator of technological innovation, he sees more and more innovation being born in other cities across the country.

“Everybody talks about Silicon Valley and they’re starting to realize you’re starting to find that the greatest selling, the largest selling projects in the world, often are not coming from Silicon Valley,” Wozniak said.

Looking forward to the continued evolution of technology, Wozniak said a key innovation will rest on technology that can better understand natural language and the intricate nuances of communication.

“We’re going to get better and better at understanding language the way people do,” he said, so that a device is more robust and can interact more seamlessly with its user.

“It might one day be my best teacher,” Wozniak said.

Erica Breunlin is a staff reporter at BizTimes Milwaukee.

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