Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak On Technology, AI and Innovation in Banking

In an exclusive interview and in a presentation at the Novathon conference, the Apple co-founder discusses his love for technology, his fears about artificial intelligence, and his perspectives on the potential for digital transformation.

While optimistic about the future, Steve Wozniak is not ready to turn over his identity (nor his Tesla) to artificial intelligence anytime soon. At a conference in Budapest I attended, he referenced deleting his Facebook account because of privacy concerns, and that he no longer believes that a totally autonomous car will happen in his lifetime. But Wozniak retains the passion and enthusiasm for technology and innovation that made him a household name as Apple’s co-founder.

When he and Steve Jobs started Apple, they were trying to develop a new kind of computer that would improve the user experience beyond what was available at the time. The rest is history. Today, “The Woz” is a brilliant engineer, who keeps his eye on what is happening in technology, digital transformation and entrepreneurship.

Wozniak is involved in numerous business and philanthropic ventures, focusing primarily on computer capabilities in schools and stressing hands-on learning and encouraging student creativity. He’s revealed that he has given the vast majority of his wealth to charity.

Staying on top of current technology trends, Wozniak has even become involved in the controversy around the algorithms used to determine credit limits on the newly introduced Apple Card. Concerned about gender discrimination, he used Twitter to join the debate, saying that he received a credit limit ten times higher than his wife, despite the couple sharing all their assets.

I had the unique opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one Banking Transformed interview with Wozniak as part of the Novathon innovation event in Budapest. In our interview, Wozniak discusses his personal life, his focus on education, recommendations for entrepreneurs, the state of innovation and his memories of Steve Jobs.

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Your legacy spans decades, yet you continue to transform yourself. How do you do it?

Wozniak: I don’t know. I just live. I’m into life. I’m into exploring, having fun, learning new things, especially learning new things when they’re related to areas of my life that have been important. Technology, digital, computers and what they can do for us. I just enjoy having fun … a fun life.

What is your perspective on the need for more technical education?

Wozniak: We should have more technology and STEM education in schools and better prepare people. I think we should give them the ability to encounter projects that they can build on their own with little Raspberry Pis – small, low-cost computers with a lot of sensors and motors and everything. If somebody is interested in that, let them have a whole curriculum where they take course after course, not just one course here and there throughout high school … but continually explore it as a curriculum.

Special schools sometimes do allow this to an extent. Or it could be done part-time after school. The thing is, it’s not just productivity for the United States, or for the world, to learn these sorts of things that are part of the future and what your job is going to be. It’s fun.

It can be the most fun thing to the right people. If it’s not fun to somebody, don’t force them to do it.

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What is the role of business and government to provide retraining for the ‘future of work’?

Wozniak: That’s a social problem that’s always been with us, and never goes away as things modify and new equipment comes into the picture. It could be in farming, it could be in mining, it could be in technology.

There’s no easy way around this because you’ve worked your whole life to know exactly what you do, maybe putting shoes on horses, and then all of a sudden that job doesn’t exist anymore. What do you do? How do you retrain yourself and learn a new occupation? You’ll just be a beginner with a lower salary level and all that.

No, it’s very difficult for society. We just have to plan on building training programs and all of us should handle it kind of like insurance. I believe that government support and socialization are good ways to go.

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Is there a role of government with regard to banking innovation?

Wozniak: I’ve never really thought about that because I always think of innovation as coming from individuals who want to change and do things better. I don’t think the government says, “Oh, we want innovation.” I think the government would always say, “We want it,” but they aren’t the ones who can create it. Only the ones who can create are the ones that really know what a realistic approach to innovation is.

What recommendations do you give to those who want to be entrepreneurs?

Wozniak: It begins with honesty. Listen to other people. Realize that it’s going to take many different talents to make a successful startup or a successful company. If you’re an engineer, listen to the ideas from marketing and from the business side. If you’re in marketing, listen to the ideas from the engineers in all of your thinking.

Before you write a business plan, please involve the engineers who are going to actually be able to create the product for you. Don’t say, “Hey, we’ll just go raise some money. We’re just going to be a business that does ‘X’, and then after we have the money, we’ll hire some engineers in whatever country or part of the world we feel like, where it doesn’t cost as much.” No, don’t think that way. Include engineers in your thinking, and listen to others in the organization.

More than that, don’t just go for skill sets – people who have the skills to create your new idea and your new product. Look for people that get along together, that have similar personalities, and like each other and do things together and socialize together. Personalities – psychologists should be involved in picking a lot of the startup teams.

What do you remember most about Steve Jobs?

Wozniak: Mostly, I remember the times we had before Apple. Strange as that sounds, we just had a lot of fun times laughing together and exploring and being excited about what was going on and being kids.

It was a type of closeness that was just so important to me. After Apple got going, he was so great at his thinking and his way of seeing the future. The trouble is he was very poor at executing, and he didn’t know computers and we had a lot of failures at Apple. Eventually, he came back and his success was not in computers. It was with the iPod, a human-centric device. He understood humans.

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Who do you like as an entrepreneur in the marketplace today?

Wozniak: I don’t see a lot of the young startup people that have much better minds and thinking than those that are part of existing organizations. I have some reservations though. For instance, Elon Musk saw that the need was not just for an electric car. You had to have the superb charging stations in the United States that no other cars can deal with for long trips. But, I also disdain his being “above it all.” He misleads a lot of people into thinking what artificial intelligence will do. I have plus and minus feelings.

Jack Dorsey has always impressed me. Almost everything he’s done and spoken of is really good – thinking of people and thinking the right way. I agree with his business directions and his business models.

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