If ever a Wiz there Woz: ITP.net talks to Steve Wozniak

Apple co-founder talks Snowden, Dubai, artificial intelligence and aircraft hacking

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If ever a Wiz there Woz: ITP.net talks to Steve Wozniak Wozniak: The US would look like [Dubai] if we didn’t spend all our money on the military.
By  Stephen McBride Published  May 21, 2015

"Everything is first-class," says Nerd-in-Chief Steve Wozniak of Dubai, as we sit down to chat on the sidelines of this month's Gartner Symposium at the Madinat Arena.

"The United States used to talk, when I was growing up, like that's what we were. The US would look like this if we didn't spend all our money on the military."

He tells me he has visited the Emirate once before with his wife, Janet, in February, but had little time to properly explore. This time he is absorbing more of the skyline.

"It's a little bit shocking to see something this beautiful and clean; if a computer were this clean, I would love it as a [piece of] technology," he enthuses.

In fact, "enthusiastic" is a word that neatly summarises the 64-year-old Apple co-founder. A man who is arguably at the heart of home computing history, naturally inspires a lengthy introduction, but David Willis, Gartner VP and Distinguished Analyst, managed an aptly brief biography when introducing Wozniak to a packed auditorium during the company's three-day summit.

"Everybody knows, everybody loves Steve Wozniak," said Willis. "Of course we know him as the co-founder of Apple. He was the principle, sole designer of the Apple I and II. Did you know that before that he used to hack the telephone system, just for fun? Did you also know he founded the first company to market the universal remote control? He also founded an Internet of Things company back in 2001, before anyone was talking about the Internet of Things. He's a beloved technology personality... We all have Steve to thank for making technology approachable for normal people."

And "Woz" is equally approachable for normal people. He speaks passionately about everything and does not appear to edit himself. When we start to talk about privacy and I ask him whether he thinks NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain his answer is prompt and unabashed.  

"Total hero to me; total hero," he gushes. "Not necessarily [for] what he exposed, but the fact that he internally came from his own heart, his own belief in the United States Constitution, what democracy and freedom was about. And now a federal judge has said that NSA data collection was unconstitutional."

Snowden, who revealed classified NSA documents to reporters in 2013, is a fugitive from US prosecutors, living on a temporary visa in Russia, another nation he has criticised for its approach to privacy. The judgement Wozniak refers to is that of a federal court in New York, which earlier this month found Section 215 of the US Patriot Act, which authorised the mass surveillance programmes exposed by Snowden, to be insufficient grounds for justifying the NSA's collection of domestic communications data.

"So he's a hero to me, because he gave up his own life to do it," says Wozniak. "And he was a young person, to give up his life. But he did it for reasons of trying to help the rest of us and not just mess up a company he didn't like."

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