A worldwide tech revolution began with young Steve Wozniak drawing switches and circuits on a sketchpad, dreaming of some day owning a computer all to himself.
From the eager kid with posters of computers on his walls to the eager 23-year-old hired by Hewlett-Packard to design calculators, to the crafter of game-changing technology and the engineering chief of a global giant, the Woz’s main vision has remained a constant: technology, and especially computers, should help users master their lives.
“I wanted to give power to the little guy,” said Wozniak, who remembered what the early days of user experience testing looked like: a two-way mirror and first-time users of his Apple II computer.
A candid, relaxed and evocative Wozniak came to Philly on Tuesday as the keynote speaker at InstaMed’s user conference, which gathered hundreds of clients of the healthcare payments at the plush Warwick Hotel near Rittenhouse Square. He was introduced by a beaming Bill Marvin, the company’s cofounder and CEO, who gushed over Wozniak as he demo’d an Apple II program he built in middle school.
“The vision is still clear,” said Marvin of his Center City based company, founded in 2004. “In the changing landscape our mission is clear: to move money seamlessly with great user experience, keeping data safe and simplifying the end-to-end experience.”
As expected, storied Apple chief Steve Jobs, who passed away in 2011, came up frequently as Wozniak spoke on stage, with the occasional question from InstaMed’s VP of Strategy Deirdre Ruttle.
“He’d always turn my inventions into money,” said Wozniak, 67.
He had a bone to pick with Jobs, the 2013 flick where Ashton Kutcher plays his cofounder. As he recounted passing out his computer designs at the storied Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, he dropped the nudge:
“Don’t believe the movie they showed with Ashton Kutcher, where Steve ‘took me’ to the club: I was already a hero at that club!”
It was at that club that the early sketches for the Apple I came up. The next product of that series, with insight from Jobs but the tech drive from Wozniak, would go on to sell around 6 million units and introduce a whole generation to the concept of personal computers.
“Steve Jobs didn’t understand technology but he understood people,” Wozniak said.
Naturally, speaking before an audience of healthcare reps and stakeholders, Wozniak was also asked to touch on the intersection of healthcare and technology. He’s not too pleased with what the lack of seamless experiences he sees. He’s also not keen on the idea of companies like Amazon looking to enter the $3 trillion health industry.
“My first opinion is that giant companies aren’t experts in healthcare,” said Wozniak. “Technology doesn’t come from technologists but from people who know what they want. We’re kinda captive to companies like Google and Amazon, we’re in their system. You need a company that cares about users, privacy, security.”
These days, the creator of the Apple II observes technology closely. Just the day before, Woz made the news by announcing he had deleted his Facebook profile over privacy concerns. He’s also interested, but unimpressed by artificial intelligence.
“I don’t believe that at all,” Woz says of claims that artificial intelligence will one day equal humans at all tasks. “I believe the A [in artificial intelligence] is correct but people get confused and think it’s intelligent. They’ll have more problems than what we thought.”
Perhaps counter-intuitively, the Woz is a big fan of Apple’s Siri, the AI-based technology the company acquired in 2010. But that has to do with its human-centered interaction. Voice input, the cofounder said, felt natural from the beginning, even in the app’s initial versions which wasn’t all it is today.
“Of course, time came that Siri was good,” Woz said. “But never good enough.”
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