Wozniak: Put humans first in technology design

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, has one cardinal rule for technology design: humans first.

Delivering a keynote address at 1105 Media's FOSE conference, Wozniak -- now chief scientist at Fusion IO -- told several stories of the early days of Apple, including a lesson that he and Steve Jobs learned early on.

"If the technology is the master of the human, then the human has to change his ways" to use it, he said. "That's a bad way to go. You should always make the human more important."

An early test of that principle was Apple's Lisa computer, a prototype which predated the MacIntosh, Wozniak said. Lisa was one of the first computers to use a graphical user interface -- a contrast to the command line used by IBM's DOS operating system -- and proved to be intuitive and easy for most people to use.

Wozniak, whose talk was entitled "Fostering Creativity and Innovation in Any Environment," also emphasized the importance of personal passion. Recalling his early boyhood adventures with technology, which included stringing up a house-to-house intercom with a friend and then later designing a microcomputer to play tic tac toe, Wozniak said his adult work has been similarly propelled by personal interests.

"My desire to do great things in technology, I can almost always trace back to a personal motivation, not a job assignment," he said.

In his early adulthood, Wozniak described a life that sounded like it included just about every "computer geek" cliche imaginable. He was working for Hewlett Packard designing calculators, but the company had a policy of allowing its engineers to take components to use in personal projects.

"Fortunately, I had no chance of getting a wife, no chance of getting a girlfriend. I had a lot of free time at night," he said. "I'd come home, watch 'Star Trek,' eat a TV dinner and do electronics projects."

Wozniak said he believes we are always just at the start of technological advances. Computers, he said, will soon have the intelligence to think -- and maybe feel -- as humans do.

Wozniak described his love for dogs, and how he cares for his own, sometimes even adding filet mignon to the pet's dinner bowl.

"Maybe we're building these machines to take care of us, and we're like the dog," he said.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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