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Apple's Steve Wozniak: 'We've lost a lot of control'

Mark Milian
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Wozniak: Past rebels, future programmers
  • Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has hesitations about a tech-dominated society
  • Wozniak carries five to 10 cell phones but expresses frustrations with unreliable products
  • He has hand-picked several artifacts for an upcoming exhibit at the Computer History Museum
  • Apple Inc.
  • Steve Wozniak
  • Computer

Mountain View, California (CNN) -- The world has mostly caught on to Steve Wozniak's vision of having a computer in every home. But this digital lifestyle can sometimes turn rotten, he said last week.

Wozniak, who co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs and designed, programmed and built some of the world's first personal computers, laments the byproducts of a culture that's always connected to electronics.

Leading a tour through an exhibit of computer artifacts -- including giant supercomputers and Atari game systems -- that opens next month at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Wozniak paused to criticize the stranglehold technology has on our lives.

"We're dependent on it," he said at the museum, which holds one of the world's largest collections of vintage computers and sits about six blocks from Google's headquarters. "And eventually, we are going to have it doing every task we can in the world, so we can sit back and relax."

Wozniak's musings have undertones of science-fiction, drawing parallels between the internet and robots bent on taking over humanity.

"All of a sudden, we've lost a lot of control," he said. "We can't turn off our internet; we can't turn off our smartphones; we can't turn off our computers."

"You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it's not God," he quipped.

Earlier that day, Wozniak said the biggest obstacle with the growing prevalence of technology is that our personal devices are unreliable.

"Little things that work one day; they don't work the next day," he said enthusiastically, waving his hands. "I think it's much harder today than ever before to basically know that something you have ... is going to work tomorrow."

Reciting an all-too-common living-room frustration, Wozniak told a story about the countless hours he spent trying to troubleshoot his media player, called Slingbox.

"There is no solution," Wozniak said of tech troubles. "Everything has a computer in it nowadays; everything with a computer is going to fail. The solution is: kill the people who invented these things," he said with a smile.

Joking aside, by that logic, Wozniak should be target No. 1 on that hit list. He developed the Apple I, a hobbyist computer, and its more mainstream successors. His work jump-started the personal computer revolution.

As it happens, the museum exhibit is called "Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing." Wozniak, one of 52 fellows at the museum, was asked to hand-pick eight items on display.

"It's transformed our lives," Computer History Museum CEO John Hollar said of the personal computer. "It's transformed our cultures."

Wozniak, 60, the computer whiz whose Apple shares easily sustain his Segway-riding lifestyle, retired from full-time employment at Apple in 1987. But "the Woz" has remained in the spotlight, thanks to a turn as a "Dancing with the Stars" contestant in 2009 and a much-publicized relationship with comedian Kathy Griffin.

Last month, he appeared in London for the auction of a rare Apple I computer that sold for $213,000. One was also on display at the Computer History Museum.

During Wozniak's short-lived run on "Dancing with the Stars," gossip bloggers noted his short, portly frame and compared him to a teddy bear. In person, he comes off as kind, humble and patient -- although one of the few things that test his patience, it seems, is computers.

Despite his frustrations with gadgetry, Wozniak is still a gearhead. He says he carries five to 10 cell phones around with him at a given time. Sometimes he'll set up half a dozen of them, along with standalone GPS units, on his car's windshield, all navigating him to the same spot.

On Thursday, he had three: two iPhones (including an elusive white model that has yet to be sold in stores) and another running Google's Android operating system.

He is a voracious news consumer whose days are engrossed in "thousands of tech headlines." And Wozniak recently made headlines of his own.

In one, he compared Android to Microsoft's Windows and said that Google's system would eventually dominate the smartphone market. He echoed this sentiment to CNN.

"Apple likes to sit and control the whole user experience better, and it's a tradeoff," Wozniak said. "The Android platform might have the greater market share, but individually as a company, I'm sure Apple will probably wind up on top in mobile phones."

Wozniak also created some blogosphere buzz when he was quoted as saying Apple had acquired language-software maker Nuance, a tip that turned out to be incorrect. Last week, he made repeated mention to the similar company that Apple actually did buy, called Siri.

Wozniak appears most excited about these types of software, which interpret what you're saying and translate that into actions readable by computers.

"Eventually, we might just be wearing our computers like a watch and speaking to them," he said. (He's already there; he wears a touch-screen iPod Nano with a band around his wrist.) "Every step of the way, things get less in our way. It's less like the technology is there. It's more like our thoughts go directly into the actions that we want."

That's the ideal future, he said.

Technology romanticism aside, Wozniak says his favorite device is a laptop: the MacBook Pro.

His hesitations about the world's reliance on computers sometimes fade into fond memories of the early days of computing. The first Apple computer was a homebrew distributed for free.

"I didn't design this computer to make a lot of money," Wozniak said later when the tour stopped in front of the original Apple computer, a wooden and silicon contraption that's rough around the edges. "I wanted to accelerate the world's advancement in the social revolution that it would cause. So I gave away my designs for free.

"But eventually, Steve Jobs came and said, 'Why don't we build it for (consumers)?'" he continued. That was after his then-employer Hewlett-Packard "turned me down five times on the idea," he said.

Whether computers work all the time or not, the formula certainly worked to make Apple a wildly successful business. And it gives Wozniak time to observe the revolution he helped make.


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