"A great idea for humanity would be machines that interact and act just like human beings."
We asked Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak about the future of tech and what's in store for us on the job market and in everyday life
3 questions
1. Which new technologies have potential to change the world in the coming years?2. Some people say contemporary society is facing a crisis of big ideas. What could be the next big goal for humanity, or could we go on without major goals?3. What should young IT specialists focus on in their professional development, and what should young people who aren't very good at technology be doing?

Everyone in the world is interested in where we are going, the new technologies, what impact they are going to have on products and lifestyle. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, quantum computing, the internet of things - all these categories are being spoken of. I actually looked to each one of those with great hopes for improving our future as humans. 

One additional category that is already becoming very prominent is that of personal assistance. Personal assistance can be like the Amazon Echo, Siri, Cortana, Bixby on Samsung Phones. I can ask questions. I like the Amazon Echo because I never have to lift a finger, I never have to pick up a phone, I never have to address even a watch to get something done, and I can ask questions. Last night at my hotel room, I just said “Play song with lyrics…” And I gave some lyrics to the song. And it started playing the song, it didn’t respond back ‒ “Here is the answer, here’s the song you’re looking for.” It actually did what I directed it to do.

One category that is already becoming very prominent is that of personal assistance. What is my idea of a perfect personal assistant? What you need today gets done yesterday.

So, understanding human speech the way a human being would is very important to me in all the personal assistance we have. 

We’re also looking forward to a future of robotics. Humanoid robotics. Robotics that walk and have hands to manipulate things. That field is growing much more slowly than computer science and other sorts of digital products, but someday I envision machines that walk around and help you very much. 

What is my idea of a perfect personal assistant? What you need today gets done yesterday. So artificial intelligence is probably the key of the categories you did mention because it applies to almost everything in life including personal assistance. 

We do not have computers that sit back and say, “What should I do and what is the best method to approach this problem?” They only obey instructions that really come from humans.

But we can speak of examples that we have today: machines that can play chess better than any humans. They can come up with answers and make decisions for calculations and big data much faster than any human does. And we sort of call it intelligence. My entire life we have called this thing “artificial intelligence” ‒ a script set of rules determining better performance than a human seems like intelligence. But when I was very young, I was taught that that really is simulated intelligence. It pretends to be intelligence. It looks like intelligence, but it’s not like a human brain. My entire life from a very early age, from the first program I ever wrote on a computer ‒ a computer that could do one million things a second still couldn’t solve a simple problem. A human brain can look at a problem and say, “How can it be solved?” We do not have computers that sit back and say, “What should I do and what is the best method to approach this problem?” They only obey instructions that really come from humans. 

Maybe a computer will even have consciousness and feelings. But we can’t say that, because we do not know how the brain is structured, otherwise we could make a brain. Right now, it takes 9 months to make a brain.

What’s the problem? We do not know how the brain is wired. We act like we know 10 000 things about the brain. But really there’s a big black hole as to how it is structured. You can predict that machine will someday be able to analyze as much data as fast as human brain, and maybe that implies singularity where you can’t predict what’s beyond it. Maybe the computer will start thinking for itself, maybe it will become real and even have consciousness and feelings. But we can’t say that, because we do not know how the brain is structured, otherwise we could make a brain. Right now, it takes 9 months to make a brain.

2/3 Some people say contemporary society is facing a crisis of big ideas. What could be the next big goal for humanity, or could we go on without major goals?

I’m not sure I understand the question as it was phrased. The next goal to me is that I would love to see us becoming dispersed and separated farther from politics, and more into use of the brain, emphasizing the good brains. We really are the key to the future, to making decisions - and that’s about all I can say on that.

A great idea for humanity? Well, obviously, machines that interact and act just like human beings. Every step of the way from personal computers to today, we have made the machines seem more genuine, more realistic. Cartoons have changed into live videos; virtual reality has made you feel like you’re in another world. Artificial reality will give us information about the world at our fingertips. I will be able to look at you and see your name, and, of course, every website you’ve ever browsed, and every click you’ve ever made, and everything you’ve ever said online. 

Next idea? Very difficult to say. I would say machines that are very good friends to humans, but which help us more than we could ever do by ourselves.

3/3 What should young IT specialists focus on in their professional development, and what should young people who aren't very good at technology be doing?

Before I answer this question, which is hard to answer, I will tell a little story. Steve Jobs and I, in deciding to start Apple, had a purpose. We talked, and we said “We would like to build a technology that will someday make blind people equivalent to people who can see.”

And, after all this time, you have to admit that we succeeded, because everywhere you go, at a train station for example, people are looking at their machines, and they are blind to the world. That’s a joke. 

As far as what you should study today to be in line for tomorrow, there isn’t one answer. All people are different. Society requires a lot of talent in many, many disciplines to work functionally and smoothly. So, it’s wrong to say everyone should be a certain digital engineer, everyone should be analogue engineer. Someone should be a writer, some people should make music, other people should study chemistry or physics because we need to develop new devices. There is no one right answer.

All people are different. Society requires a lot of talent in many, many disciplines to work functionally and smoothly. Someone should be a writer, some people should make music, other people should study chemistry or physics.

You can look at where the jobs are disappearing. And they are not necessarily disappearing because of smartness of technology ‒ only a little bit. It’s largely the mechanics. We’re in the fossil fuel age. We have more energy available per person that we could’ve ever imagined and we can make huge machines called robots that assemble huge things like cars. And those used to be human jobs. So, you can look where human jobs are going away, and say “Maybe these are categories to ignore”.

But whatever you choose to do with life, you choose to be a digital engineer, because every company is modifying the way that it interacts with the public, with other businesses. Every company is going digital. If you choose to be a digital person or you choose to be a person that understands how to assemble small devices, even watches with your own hands, you should try to be one of the best in the world. That should be your goal. How can I be the best in the world? Try to be better than those around you. Think of other people that would solve the same problem, do the same thing, maybe invent the same circuit or device or write the same program. And I have written it. And pretty much a million people are trained with the same training, the same books, the same lecturers as myself, and they would turn out something equivalent. What can I do that’s a little special? Go back a second time, rethink things. Is there a way I can do it better? If you love what you are doing, you will become one of the best in the world.

I, myself, love mathematics. When I was in high school, we would be assigned to do the odd problems at the end of a chapter from number 1 to 37. They would do the odd problems for homework. I would do every single problem all the way to number 50. I would do every one and any extra assignments I could because I loved it. Not because I got a better grade. When I designed circuits that led up a long path leading up to Apple computer, I had reputation for thinking out the most optimal design with the fewest parts. That was my way of being better than other people. And I would come up with tricks that were in my head and not in any books.

Everyone should pursue the disciplines at the university level that they are getting the most happiness from, that they feel they are the best and will have the most to contribute, whether or not it looks like it’s a guide to their future employment.

We are taught techniques to use building blocks, and how those building blocks are built up into products, maybe a final program. But we are taught to create on our own, to have an idea in our head. The neuron connection is virtual, and how do you make something real out of it? 

As an engineer, I never wanted to do what’s already in the books. A million people would be doing the same thing as me. I always think “Is there a different way, a better way, alternative approach?” If something took me 78 digital chips to build, I would go to sleep every night thinking “Is there a way to cut it down to 76 chips or 75 chips? Is there a way I could do less?” And I came up with a talent not of knowing how to reduce them but the talent of how to come up with a way to reduce them. And it made me stand out and I had a big reputation for that. And I was proud of it. You’re proud of what you’re good at. 

So, everyone should pursue the disciplines at the university level that they are getting the most happiness from, that they feel they are the best and will have the most to contribute, whether or not it looks like it’s a guide to their future employment.