By a stroke of luck, this year, I had the rare privilege to interview the legendary Steve Wozniak at the Dig-In "The Digital Transformation of Insurance" conference in Austin, Texas. What a treat! Woz shared some amazing insights on what’s next in tech, what makes a successful startup, why big companies often fail to nurture new ideas, which letters he likes in AI, and whether Socrates would crack jokes on a coast to coast ride with him.
Since this was a Digital Insurance conference, the key question was of course about the digital future of insurance and Steve weighed in on how quickly he thought insurers wold be able to transform their services into an always-on fully digital model.
I jump-started the interview with the much anticipated “what’s next” question because the audience naturally wanted to know what Steve thought about major advancements in technology.
NEXT IN TECH
Steve cares about consumers, and so his answer steered us in the direction of helping humans, enhancing our quality of life through technology. Tech is a human tool which, when used responsibly, can improve the quality of life.
“We are moving in the direction of more personalized computing, getting something actuated by voice.” I agree that more and more information will be coming when we need it from our friendly and smart Personalized Assistants.
“We are on the verge of something happening.”Steve hopes we can get more out of Personal Assistants. Can we eventually think about something and have the computer understand us? “Not really but I may be wrong,” he said laughing.
One thing is for sure: Humans are more important than machines, in his mind.
PRIVACY & PERSONALIZATION
In the age when personalization and behavioral nudges have become the norm, tech companies are facing a significant backlash against sharing data.
With Steve’s focus on human concerns, he wants to explore what users want and make technology personalized and intuitive. “Put the work into technology to make it easier for humans.” He also stands for truth, transparency, and civil liberties. “I want to feel independent and make my own decisions. I don’t want my privacy to be interrupted. Data stays with me where it belongs.”
I couldn’t agree more. Whether I am at home or driving my car, I’d like to own my data and definitely do not want it to be utilized without my permission. You can find more on Steve and his view on privacy here.
NEXT FOR DIGITAL INSURANCE
With so many insurance minds in the audience thinking about risk mitigation, and our ability to measure risk at the millisecond level today, I simply had to ask what Steve thought about insurance services transformation into this always-on-warning and coaching system, using smart event detection like eye gaze and head pose tracking. Among some applications are warning drivers of impending dangers and informing them what their decisions mean in real-time, as assistive technology keeping us safe in cars is growing.
As far as big insurance companies go, Steve encourages us to look at statistics that are descriptive of the entire population, rather than running controlled experiments as well as measuring risk over time on a “gray scale,” rather than in 0s and 1s. For example, the more we know about a driver’s behavior, attentiveness, health, the better we can estimate the risk and the insurance rate. He also pointed out that today cars are also better about spotting obstacles on the road. “It’s going to happen. It takes time,” he concluded.
AI & HUMAN CREATIVITY
Steve believes in the “A” but not the “I” in AI. The “I” makes you think it’s like a human brain and it’s not. Now we have cars with cameras. Machines can give us a method. Speed of digital tech is everywhere.
Intelligence means I will decide what to do. Singularity is how much we can process per second. Does that mean that the machine gets consciousness and feelings? No, humans are still in control of the “I” because intelligence includes conscious emotions.
We read a lot about AI these days. According to Steve, AI is the most advanced approach to solving problems that a human being could not do without. At the same time, creativity is built into a human brain and cannot be easily mimicked by machines. “Everyone has an idea they want to explore. We have been born with a curiosity for the world,” said Steve.
LESSONS LEARNED & ADVICE FOR STARTUPS
To run a successful startup, you need
- A good businessman
- A good marketer who knows what to build
- And, of course, good engineers! Remember to include engineers in business thinking because they are trained to solve problems.
You also need to be one of the people who truly wants the product yourself.
Steve also encouraged startups to be honest with themselves and not be afraid to change course: “If you spot something that’s better, then don’t be afraid to change direction. Work towards good; it’s in your head now. You can restart and do a clean piece of code in a fraction of time. “
Crucial in startups is to complete and make projects work. In building the team, we should look for matching personalities that would work well together. Agreed: One almost needs to be a psychologist when building a company.
Steve gave more advice on how to avoid innovation mistakes. You can read more about it here.
STARTUPS AS NEXUS OF INNOVATION
It used to be the case that the greatest innovations once came from big corporations, but today the startup culture seems to have become the nexus of innovation. Steve reminisced about his time at HP, when he got turned down by five times when he was proposing a PC!
Steve recommended that companies have Chief Disruption Officers who would be able to estimate and calculate what may be important at a given time. They should report to the Board of Directors, rather than to the CEO. CEOs are working hard on the bottom line, and there will be no attention from the CEO unless it affects it.
Ah yes, and about the coast to coast ride with Socrates, he said that (unlike him) Socrates would not be cracking jokes but talking about philosophy. Steve takes many long road trips with his wife, loves to tell jokes, and listen to audiobooks.
I have asked him this question because once he had said that if he could have dinner with any influential figure from any period, it would Socrates. The father of western ethics who believed that virtue is in human relationships, love, and friendship, may not be telling jokes to Steve but would have a Facebook account since he was a communicator. But hey! Socrates would keep his list of friends limited and would certainly not want to sell them things. Perhaps he would be using social media for a free education...
NOTHING TO CHANGE...
Steve gets a lot of “what if you could go back in time and change something” questions. It was refreshing to hear he would not change a thing. Wow! “I got my personality at 20 years old. It’s set, and I don’t want to go back.”
His philosophy is to be constructive and fix things, trust yourself, and see what could be done. “Tech is like science one thing leads to another lots of steps lead to a PC. I wanted to make my own computer to make something one step to make us more powerful. Every step of the way we want to make ourselves more powerful.“ Steve is a thinker, indeed! He made computers easy to use.
Today Steve does lots of speaking engagements. He especially likes speaking in high schools and universities. He loves concerts, hockey games, and spending time with his family. The personal part of his life is important to him.
Steve has given us lots of great thoughts and inspiration, but the best take-away for me was to live on the leading edge of one’s passion. Let’s live that edge, create that need, inspire by that innovation. Innovation is necessity-based and technology is merely the tool, so we should wield it responsibly to improve our world.
I am eternally grateful for this brilliant opportunity to talk with the guy who started the startups!
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