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My 'pinch-to-zoom' invention
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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One of the dreams that I had as an undergraduate is I always wanted to have a map that I could just spread out and zoom into. And I actually tried to build a prototype. I built a prototype and that was back in the days when I knew Steve Jobs, and I showed Steve Jobs my prototype of the zooming map, and he was, like, 'That's impractical, people don't want to touch a computer screen.' And then later I really got it working well enough to patent it, and file a patent on it. And then of course, years later, the iPhone came out and it had pinch-to-zoom on it. And much to my surprise, Apple filed a patent on this thing that I had invented long ago. But I just kind of ignored it, but then Apple, when Samsung came out with their phones, Apple sued Samsung for pinch-to-zoom. And actually won a $1.2 billion settlement from Samsung. So Samsung countersued and they went back and they found my old patent, and they countersued on the grounds that I had invented it long before Apple ever did. And they won. And so they got Apple's patents completely thrown out. And they got the patent office to basically declare that my invention... you know, I had invented it before Apple had patented it, so they declared Apple's patent invalid. But I always felt sort of bad that Samsung... if they'd only like given me .001% of the amount of money, but it never happened. But I have to say it's one of my inventions that I'm most proud of, because I see now children do it to magazines, and they just expect every screen to do that. And I realise that they will grow up not ever imagining that that was ever invented, because it's just so intuitive that they would just think... children are born expecting to do that to pictures, because infants do it now, because they see it happen. So I love that invention, because I see people use it every day. And yes, somebody else probably would have invented it if I hadn't, but it's still pretty great to think, wow, I imagined the world was like that before it was, and I helped make it like that.

W Daniel Hillis (b. 1956) is an American inventor, scientist, author and engineer. While doing his doctoral work at MIT under artificial intelligence pioneer, Marvin Minsky, he invented the concept of parallel computers, that is now the basis for most supercomputers. He also co-founded the famous parallel computing company, Thinking Machines, in 1983 which marked a new era in computing. In 1996, Hillis left MIT for California, where he spent time leading Disney’s Imagineers. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer product businesses. More recently, Hillis co-founded an engineering and design company, Applied Minds, and several start-ups, among them Applied Proteomics in San Diego, MetaWeb Technologies (acquired by Google) in San Francisco, and his current passion, Applied Invention in Cambridge, MA, which 'partners with clients to create innovative products and services'. He holds over 100 US patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices (including a 10,000-year mechanical clock), and has recently moved into working on problems in medicine. In recognition of his work Hillis has won many awards, including the Dan David Prize.

Listeners: George Dyson Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Steve Jobs

Duration: 2 minutes, 47 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017