Having done a thing or two to change the world through the personal-computing revolution, Steve Wozniak sees self-driving cars as the next major technological breakthrough.
The self-described geek, who helped make personal computers ubiquitous after co-founding the world’s most valuable corporation, gushed about the potential for artificial intelligence in the automotive industry during a recent talk in the Valley.
Self-driving vehicles will be safer and more efficient than those currently piloted by people and could lead to a transportation revolution along the lines of what affordability and ease of use did for computers, he predicted. They could relegate people to the role of back-seat drivers.
“Within 20 years, human drivers won’t be allowed except on certain roads, just for fun,” Wozniak told more than 200 people attending a presentation in Paradise Valley hosted by BBVA Compass Bank. “Accident rates will be so much lower for self-driving cars.”
The pervasiveness of self-driving cars still seems a radical notion. But so did the idea of regular people owning low-cost, easy-to-use computers back in the mid-1970s, when Wozniak teamed with Steve Jobs to create Apple, now the world’s most valuable corporation. As he pointed out, the technology has developed rapidly and self-driving cars have been successfully tested, with nearly all big automakers working on prototypes.
The Woz himself has teamed with Cadillac in a technical-consulting role and in marketing, appearing in an offbeat TV commercial for the upcoming CT6 sedan that aired during this year’s Academy Awards presentation.
“I will be meeting with Cadillac, offering tech ideas on what belongs (in future vehicles) and what doesn’t,” he said.
Wozniak said he recently bought a Tesla after driving a Toyota Prius for a decade. He vowed to get a Cadillac CT6 after they hit showrooms later this year. He predicted the CT6 will be one of the first self-driving cars on the market and will help redefine the public’s image of the century-old automobile manufacturer.
“They have new car names and models coming,” he said of Cadillac. “They’re willing to change that company around.”
Wozniak, who remains an employee of Apple, wasn’t as enthusiastic about the new Apple Watch or other smartwatches, calling them redundant. “The smartwatch is an extra thing that doesn’t help me with my life,” he said. “The phone does it all well, already.”
The most important product or service Apple ever debuted, in his view, was the App Store. That’s because the many software applications that can be downloaded onto phones simplify life in so many ways, from making airline reservations or finding movies to navigating around town, he said.
Wozniak said that he, Jobs and other early co-workers at Apple always believed they would make a difference but never envisioned the company or industry growing as big as they did. “We saw a limited future, but we did think these computers could eventually apply to every single person in every home,” he said.
In a typical day, Wozniak likes to spend time speaking to kids and young adults, encouraging them to pursue their passions. The man who helped launch an industry recounted that he had three career ambitions — to become an engineer, comedian and fifth-grade teacher. He spent several years as a teacher after co-founding Apple, gradually shedding his introversion and dislike of public speaking.
“I was a geek in high school. People normally didn’t talk to me,” he said. “Even when I started Apple, I didn’t talk to people, except technical people.”
The activity that helped Wozniak come out of his shell was speaking to computer clubs in those early days, out of a desire to inspire other tech enthusiasts. “I went up the ladder from geeks to … engineers to full business audiences,” he said. “I did it gradually (so that) I didn’t get shoved into something that would scare me to death.”
Wozniak’s interest in entertainment has included concert promotions and a short stint on “Dancing with the Stars.” One of his current projects is bringing Comic Con to Silicon Valley next March. The technology/entertainment conventions also are held in other cities, including later this month in Phoenix, at the downtown convention center.
Wozniak appeared Wednesday at a client event hosted by BBVA Compass (bbvacompass.com, the fifth-largest bank operating in Arizona. In a related presentation, Senior Economist Kim Fraser Chase said the bank continues to see an upbeat year for the U.S. economy despite a soft first quarter. She expects the economy to expand 2.9 percent this year, which would make 2015 the best year for growth in a decade.