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Hollywood culture versus tech culture

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The 'Siliwood' days: Silicon Valley and Hollywood
W Daniel Hillis Scientist
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It was also sort of fun watching Hollywood and Silicon Valley trying to get together with each other, and that was the 'Siliwood' days. They each sensed the other was important, but they didn't quite know how. And I was kind of the technical guy at Disney, so Michael Ovitz would always bring me into his meetings with the Silicon Valley people. And I remember a meeting, for example, between Andy Grove, who was the president of Intel, and Michael Ovitz. And of course I got invited to the lunch. And I show up and Michael came in late to the lunch, which is the thing you do in Hollywood, not the thing you do in Silicon Valley. So Andy Grove was a bit irritated. And then Michael started saying, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I was late because Robin Williams had a personal problem and then Vanessa Redgrave called me and I had to deal with something with Spielberg...', and he's just dropping names right and left and Andy Grove is looking at him, like, 'Why are you wasting my time here?' I mean, Andy does not care about having all these names dropped. And so Michael's sensitive enough to realise that tack isn't working, so he sits down and he says, 'So,' he says, 'what do you see as important in your business?' And Andy Grove says, 'Well, you know, we think networks are really important.' And Michael Ovitz says, 'Oh, we do too, that's why we bought ABC.' And he goes off on... and Andy Grove just like looks confused and... So they go on for a while and Michael Ovitz doesn't quite know what's wrong, but he realises this isn't happening and so he says, 'Well, you know, what do you think makes you so successful?' And Andy Grove says, 'Well, we've established some standards' – by which he meant the 38 – 'we've established some standards and the industry uses our standards, so that lets us make a premium.' And Michael says, 'That's exactly what we do. I mean, we established the standards for our industry.' And Andy's like, 'Really? What standards have you established?' And he's like, 'Well, I mean we are the standard. I mean, everybody follows our standards and we get to charge a premium for our product because we have so much higher standards.'

It was just... you know, I'm just keeping my mouth shut. This whole thing is a train wreck. So Michael realises something is going wrong, this isn't quite working. So he decides to take another tactic. So he says, 'Well – he says – you know, a part of it is just the emotional feeling for the brand. I mean, people love Disney and I know they just love Intel. I mean, we just love Intel. It's an emotional thing.' And Andy looks confused, because nobody loves Intel. Even Andy doesn't love Intel. Andy also knows that Intel was like a big competitor of mine, because they were trying to make parallel computers, and he's very well aware of the fact that we competed with them and they're a very tough, nasty competitor. And so this whole thing, Andy hasn't said much, but after Michael says that, he looks over at me, and he says, 'I had no idea, Danny. Is this really true? Do you love Intel?' He knows exactly what he's asking. And so Michael Ovitz looks at me like, come on, back me up here. Fortunately I had a soup spoon in my mouth, so I had a chance to think. I put down the soup spoon and I said, 'You know, Intel dominates the industry. We respect that.' And Andy says, 'Thank you.' And Michael Ovitz looks like, what just went on there? I don't get it. So it was a crazy time.

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: Michael Ovitz, Andrew Gove

Duration: 4 minutes, 38 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2016

Date story went live: 05 July 2017