By Anna Guy

Of all of Steve Wozniak’s ample and celebrated talents, there is a hidden one. He is impervious to hyperbole. Try it: It’s nearly impossible to overstate his contributions to the 20th and 21st centuries as co-founder of Apple Computers; embellish on his genius as a computer programmer, inventor and engineer; or exaggerate his ability to communicate his ideas.

Steve “The Woz” Wozniak visited the Toronto Four Seasons in May as the inaugural speaker for Audi’s Speaker Forum event—the speaker series will feature “thought leaders” in the arts, fashion, design and literature. Wozniak made CBC’s Dwight Drummond jobs as moderator easy as he drew in the audience with his life story including his time as a high school prankster, to inventor of the Apple I and II computer, to Siri changing his life, and his interest in new automobile technology.

The Golden Days of Apple

“My value was my ability to make things with fewer parts,” Wozniak told the room, distilling his decades of innovation into one sentence. Citing Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory, Wozniak spent his teenage years in a garage with his friends making prototypes for what would eventually become the first home computer. Wozniak spoke so effortlessly about those early days, about his passion for engineering, about early design ideas and trying to sell his work (Hewlett Packard passed on his first computer design five times), that as a listener, it sounded almost…easy. After all, the definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.

“I had magic pouring out of me for 10 years,” he said of his years engineering Apple’s first computers. “I somehow taught myself how to design a computer without any books at all. It took me at least several weeks or months the first time.”

Being a pioneer in electrical engineering lends itself to devising some epic pranks. He told one story about building a transistor disguised as a black marker that he could use to disrupt a TV set in the classroom. His fellow classmates would contour themselves into human bunny ears, thinking their position was the key to getting the signal back. “It was like a study in human psychology” he chuckled. Another time, he built a harmless ticking device and hid it in a locker. “Everything I made, I wanted it to be the best,” he said, adding that he programed the ticking on the device to speed to double time once the principal got the locker opened.

“I just wanted to be superior and best and clever at one thing that no one else in school was,” said Wozniak. “I was a social outcast so I wanted to think of myself as good in one thing. Steve Jobs had been coming to town. I met him about five years before Apple. He came into town about once a year and looked at the latest thing that I had invented for myself for fun, and he always turned them into money.”

Wozniak also introduced Jobs to his computer club. “Don’t believe the movie that shows [Jobs] dragging me off to a computer club. I was a hero at that club!” he laughed, referencing a scene in Aaron Sorkin’s biopic, Steve Jobs.

Apple’s most important product…

“If you make something for yourself, that’s the best marketing tool,” says Wozniak, adding he built the computer that he wanted to use. In that vein, he said he thinks Apple’s most important product is the third-party App store. “Siri was a third-party App,” he notes, adding that the App has “changed” his life by its ability to navigate the web and answer questions. “The most important thing Apple’s ever put out in my life—I used to say it could be the Macintosh, usually I’d say the iPhone, but no, the third-party App Store has changed the way I live my life the most.”

Wozniak described his “ah-ha” Siri moment to the crowd. “I was overlooking Lake Tahoe in California with my wife from Kansas and she said “Is this the largest lake in California?” I spent over thirty minutes trying to type in Google queries to find out. I ask the question no computer could ever answer, “what are the five largest lakes in California?” And it came back one, two, three, four, five. Lake Tahoe was number three. And I was shocked, again.”

“The future of artificial intelligence is being able to understand human things,” he continued. “We tried to build a computer back then that was intuitive enough so you knew what to do with it once you saw it. Having a machine be intuitive enough to know what a human needs or wants is something else.”

The Future of the Car

Wozniak spoke with Business Elite Canada before the Speakers Forum. We asked him to combine the themes of the night: technology and automobiles.

“I’ve thought about autonomous driving for quite a while,” said Wozniak. “I’ve thought about computers versus the human, computer smartness versus the brain—would a computer ever be able to equal the brain? And I’ve always been very negative that it wouldn’t even come close. Now I’ve modified it to say Artificial Intelligence will come close.”

“When autonomous driving became a topic, one of the first thing I [considered] is that airplanes fly themselves—some of them all the way until the landing, and its safer than a human doing it in a lot of cases. If cars didn’t run through red lights and hit other cars it would be quite a fantastic savings for humanity, so I became a fan of it,” he said.

“Tesla is getting closer to an autonomous driving car, and Chevrolet has been running 50 autonomous driving cars of them a year autonomously in San Francisco, and they just ordered 200 more for that program.”

Wozniak is keeping a close eye on electric automobiles as well. “I read about every car company in the world that is working on electric cars and self driving cars. I’m interested in both as separate categories because I like seeing the world go from ugly gas burning cars to a nice, clean, electric world, and…economically, by 2022 or 2025 [electric cars] will be cheaper than a gas car. Electric cars turn me on a lot. At home, I have electric vehicles I have a Tesla, and a Chevy volt, and I have a Segway.”

“[My wife and I] we go any where in the country with our electric cars. Long ago I drove a Hummer One, and I was king of the road, and then I (dramatically) switched from that to a Prius Hybrid and drove that for 10 years.”

Wozniak says that whoever dominates electric car charging machines is going to win the electric car race. Just as Apple’s key to success was having both the software and the hardware, having that magic recipe of innovative technology and a user-friendly platform will be what separates the leader from the pack.

Wozniak is as engaging and easy to talk to as it gets, and the audience left the Four Seasons that evening feeling inspired and fortunate to listen to one of the most influential people in the world. With ample stories and provocative insight into human and technological integration, Wozniak set the bar high for future Audi Speakers Forum events.