Michael Bulbenko

Steve Wozniak kicks off the Sacramento Speakers Series today.

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    Who: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak

    Where: Sacramento Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., Sacramento

    When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

    Tickets: Full series only (all six speakers), $210-$450

    Details: www.sacramentospeakers.com, (916) 388-1100

    Other speakers in series: Former Vice President Al Gore, Nov. 12; retired Adm. Mike Mullen, Jan. 7; wellness pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil, Jan. 21; crisis management expert Judy Smith, Feb. 21; and “Barefoot Contessa” host Ina Garten, April 1

Steve Wozniak kicks off Sacramento Speaker Series

Published: Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 - 4:00 pm

Steve Wozniak wants computers to be more human – or at least more people-friendly.

He came to this epiphany while writing himself a note on an early computerized tablet. When he tapped a button marked “assist,” it automatically transferred the information in his handwritten note into a calendar. He thought, “Why can’t all computers do this?”

“(That moment) changed my life forever,” said the co-founder of Apple Inc., a company responsible for changing the lives of millions. “I want a computer to act how a human would treat me. ... I didn’t have to learn its language; it understood me.”

Wozniak likely will share that experience Tuesday night at the Sacramento Community Center Theater when he officially kicks off the Sacramento Speaker Series. This season’s lineup also includes former Vice President Al Gore, wellness pioneer Dr. Andrew Weil and other leaders who have profoundly affected the way people live.

As a major pioneer in the digital revolution, Wozniak brings unique insight – not just into technology’s roots and recent advances, but into what’s on the distant horizon.

“I’m certainly going to start with my version of the American Dream story,” he said of his talk. “How did the personal computer evolve? That will give us a chance to talk about what the next big steps will be and the developments coming soon as well as the change of direction in this industry.”

He promises aspects of his presentation will be totally unexpected.

“I don’t even know exactly what I’m going to say,” he said with a chuckle during a recent phone interview. “On the day I’m going to speak, I usually wake up at 4 a.m. and start writing.

“People may be surprised,” he added. “When I speak, I don’t use any computers. My notes are handwritten, not on an iPad. I write a new speech each time. I don’t want to be just copying something over and over. I’m very old-school.”

One of California’s most famous computer geeks, Wozniak co-founded Apple in the 1970s with Steve Jobs, with whom he had a complicated and sometimes stormy relationship.

More interested in new technologies and personal growth than money, Wozniak eventually left Apple to discover himself and focus on the future. That includes teaching computing to kids, inspiring science teachers and helping create new technologies.

His post-Apple projects ranged from the first programmable universal remote to developing ways to incorporate GPS into everyday use. In 2009, he joined data specialists Fuison-io as chief scientist. Now, he’s focusing on re-inventing the way people write computer programs.

“If you write programs in a totally different way, the whole world would change immediately,” Wozniak said.

Although there’s been progress, most computers and digital devices have yet to offer that true human touch because they don’t yet learn like people, Wozniak said, and that ultimately limits interface with users.

People – with their ability to observe and learn independently – are much more complicated than computers, Wozniak noted. Many of the simplest tasks we perform are actually myriad learned functions, absorbed through repeated experience.

“How do you wash a dish?” Wozniak offered as an example. “There are things we do in our daily lives that we learned through experience. You learn how to wash dishes by watching people doing it – how (to) hold things without dropping and breaking them, how (to) wipe the plates and glasses dry. Those are very difficult skills to teach a computer.”

Computers “are trying to simulate the human experience,” Wozniak said, but “they may never get to be fully ‘human.’ Someday, we may have a society of machines; they’re much more efficient in business. Who would want to run a company with slow humans?”

Wozniak, 63, has certainly seen plenty of change since the earliest days of Silicon Valley. He started as a computer club hobbyist. In the late 1970s, he invented the Apple I and Apple II computers.

“I still have at least one Apple I around somewhere – at least, I should,” he said, noting that those early relics are now worth small fortunes. “I have no idea where my prototype is. I’ve given away a bunch. I bought one for $40,000 and donated it to a museum. Now, they’re going for 10 times that.

“It was my goal (when Apple started) to make a good computer affordable,” he said. “That was the Apple II, and it was designed from the ground up. It made all of Apple’s profits for the first 10 years.”

With former high school friend Jobs, Wozniak helped launch Apple on its spectacular rise. Apple is now considered the world’s most valuable company at an estimated $500 billion.

Although he hasn’t worked full time for Apple for 26 years, Wozniak remains part of the Apple family and a devoted fan. He’s now loving his new iPhone 5s.

“I don’t ever get new Apple products in advance,” he said. “I want to be just as excited as anyone else, to be moved by a new thing.”

Wozniak, who lives in Los Gatos, carries three cellphones with three different carriers. “I’m always self-experimenting,” he said. “I travel so much, I don’t want to be somewhere without a phone (that works).”

But he rarely holds onto a gadget for very long. “My favorite gadget right now is the MacBook Pro. I try out every (Apple) model but I always move on. ... I get rid of the old stuff. It just seems so clunky.”

Many people recognize Wozniak from his short 2009 stint on “Dancing with the Stars” and other TV appearances.

“I love to joke a bit,” he said. “I have a sense of humor but all I did was answer my phone. I don’t watch TV; I had never heard of ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ But it sounded like fun.”

Wozniak admits he enjoys following online rumors about himself. “One said that Kim Kardashian had an iPhone 5s (before its release) and that she got it from me. I didn’t even have one.

“But I love it,” he added. “It makes you sound so much cooler – if you’re a nerd.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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