- Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak spoke to Business Insider at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress in Vienna, Austria.
- Asked by Business Insider about Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, he said he was “bothered by what technology has become.”
- He also hinted it is worth considering whether monopolists like Facebook, Amazon, and Apple should be split up.
Sabrina Hoffmann, editor-in-chief of Business Insider Deutschland: You’ve always seemed to be less focused on profit and power and more focused on just creating amazing computers. In times of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, manipulated elections and cybersecurity threats: are you disappointed by or even afraid of what technology has become?
Steve Wozniak: I don’t know if those words are right. I’m bothered by what technology has become. Usually, I don’t let things bother me but what bothers me more than anything in the world is when technology goes bad. Because it ends up being on people like me, for creating something that turned out to not to be good and pure. I always want to put the human before the technology. In a company like Apple that made computers easy to use, I always thought that the user was more important than the technology. We put a lot of effort into letting people live their lives in a normal, human way.
But that “human way” is changing. We used to be able to have conversations in secret with people. If I were to say something to you in private now, others wouldn’t hear it — that isn’t the case anymore. We lost our security a long time ago. We’ve lost our privacy and it’s been abused. If I think I have a level of privacy that I don’t, that’s deceit. And that bothers me. I hit a limit. I can’t take that. It’s one step in a long series of steps that are all in the same direction.
“All big companies lie to make money on some level.”
Hoffmann: On Tuesday, Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel said that German people shouldn’t be afraid of data and its usage. She said there’s been a boom in Artificial intelligence that we mustn’t miss out on and that AI without data is like having cows with no feed. What do you make of this statement?
Wozniak: She doesn’t understand that Artificial Intelligence is not the same as the intelligence of the human brain. She thinks it is. If she thinks that we have to have big data to make decisions, that makes us far less human than evolution has led us to be.
Hoffmann: So do you think progress will be possible without all this data sharing?
Wozniak: Data sharing makes us subjects of others, of control. I don’t like that. I think people should be independent and free.
Hoffmann: As regards the dark side of technology: on a panel, you said you were frustrated with Tesla because they repeatedly break their promises to customers. But this is harmless compared to what German car manufacturers like Volkswagen or BMW did. What do you think of the emission scandal?
Wozniak: All big companies lie to make money on some level. They withhold secrets — it’s not news. I don’t look at it and say to myself: “This is a big thing.” I’ve had a Mercedes before. It’s the greatest production car in the world. But now I really do like my Tesla a lot. I don’t want to go to a gas station ever again. I don’t want to drive a gas car again.
“If you get an electric car, there’s no going back. You can’t.”
Hoffmann: But did the emission scandal change your view of German car manufacturers?
Wozniak: No, I have the highest respect for them — especially Mercedes. I’m actually waiting for Mercedes’ to bring out an electric car. I’ve just got so used to plugging my car into the garage. No credit cards, no messy fuel, no waiting — it’s so convenient. I’d never give it up. If you get an electric car, there’s no going back. You can’t. My wife and I are paying very close attention to Mercedes on the electric front. We’d love to have an electric Mercedes sedan. That would be our next car.
Hoffmann: How do you feel about the drastic action the EU is taking on Apple, as well as on other companies like Google or Facebook?
Wozniak: I think companies and wealthy people should pay the same taxes as ordinary working people. I’ve always paid my taxes. I’ve never done anything to hide money, nor have I ever moved it to other states. If I make money I am willing to pay my taxes. It’s a part of life. Apple or Google will never come close to paying the taxes I do for my own labour, via earned income tax. Wealthy companies and wealthy people pay governments, they bribe them and they make the rules. The rules allow them to make great wealth but not be taxed the same and I just think it’s wrong.
“Businesses aren’t taxed properly even if they stay home. I’ve never approved of getting out of taxes.”
Hoffmann: So you don’t approve of Apple’s arrangement with the government in Ireland?
Wozniak: I can’t say I disapprove of Apple trying to get zero taxes. The business rules of the world are well-established and a company like Apple has to take the best route it can. They have owners. If you can save money by going to another country and running your business a certain way, they have to go that way or their competitors will.
Hoffmann: That’s it? We just have to live with it?
Wozniak: There’s no easy answer. Maybe someday there’ll be a different global finance system. Maybe it’ll be based on something like Bitcoin where such things can’t really happen. I don’t know, it’s just always been this way. My whole life. Businesses aren’t taxed properly even if they stay home. I’ve never approved of getting out of taxes because it makes people think: “Oh, that company’s made a lot of money. They’re really wealthy.” Well yeah! You would make that much, too — if you paid no taxes.
Hoffmann: How much responsibility for our society do big tech companies like Apple, Google, Facebook bear?
Wozniak: They don’t feel any responsibility but they should bear an amount equal to the amount the people do. Every one of them should bear the responsibility of being a fair player. And no one should have an unfair advantage over others just because they have a clever accountant. I’m no financial expert — I’d be too embarrassed to live life as I do if somebody were to accuse me of taking advantage of them and getting a financially better deal than they did. But that’s me. I’m unusual.
So monopolists like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon should be split up? “Yes, in some cases you should consider this.”
Hoffmann: Do they have too much power and control over the economy?
Wozniak: They always have done. It’s easy. Politicians, money, lobbyists. Every time I click “accept” to some online account, they wrote the contract for it. Their lawyer wrote it. My lawyer didn’t. So with my agreement, I’m giving them everything in the world and they own it.
Hoffmann: What do you make of experts like NYU Prof. Scott Galloway calling to break them up?
Wozniak: Antitrust law is based on good principles but it’s rarely put into play and rarely executed. It’s very hard. Once you have the monopoly, you start to exclude others from the market that could be competitive. You use it to overtake new markets. Because if you have one market you can put all users into another one, maybe going to a music division of your company. You kind of have them trapped. I disagree with antitrust. It’s not really enough.
Hoffmann: So monopolists like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon should be split up?
Wozniak: Yes, in some cases you should consider this. Or maybe not quite as far as splitting up. Splitting up goes back to the AT&T phone company in our country. But you could take a company like Facebook and say: “You’ll have to make it easy for people to move to a competitive website that does similar things.” You have to give somebody the ability to exit with a list of all their friends and every one of them should get a notification that, if you want to go there, they’ll all be friends there. Make it an equal competition. So you have to compete based on the quality of the product and not based on the fact that you’ve got someone trapped.
“I don’t want to be a day trader watching it go up and down because if you start caring about these things you’ll end up frowning all the time — and I’m against frowning.”
Hoffmann: You’ve repeatedly said that technology should be affordable. How do your values fit in with the iPhone getting more and more expensive every year? Just look at the price of the iPhone X.
Wozniak: My beliefs are with reference to my own life and I’ve lived by them. Companies have to survive the same way a person has to. A company has to make money. The trouble is, it’s not like a few people running Apple or Amazon can call all the shots. These are public companies. People own stocks. If the companies said: “We’re going to make less money but do the right things”, the shareholders would be up in arms and they’d kick you out. People who buy stocks just want to earn money.
Hoffmann: Is this why you don’t buy stocks?
Wozniak: I don’t have any stocks but that’s not the reason. The reason is that I don’t want to be a day trader watching it go up and down because if you start caring about these things you’ll end up frowning all the time — and I’m against frowning.
Hoffmann: If you were a young engineer again, wanting to create something revolutionary – in which area would you do this?
Wozniak: I’d probably just look into fun things for myself and it’d probably be humanoid robots to help with housework. Rumba is a really good example. I’d build a robot like that, only with much deeper programming. With deep learning, maybe you could build a machine that could wash your car one square centimeter at a time and by the morning, it would all have been washed as you slept. I’d love to build a device like that, but make it inexpensive. Everything you do has to be affordable. Generally, when you build something for yourself and you’re not building it for a company, it has to be affordable anyway.
On AI: I wouldn’t worry about it being intelligent and getting its own ideas and saying: “Hey, I’m going to get more power over humans.”
Hoffmann: So you don’t see the danger of intelligent robots becoming too powerful?
Wozniak: I’m thinking in developer and engineer terms. For these robots, you’d have to study materials and mechanics and motors. You’d have to study the electronics that drive the motors, you’d have to write the software. You’d have to cover so many disciplines to make the whole thing work. I’d develop my skills to get very good at figuring out how to make things affordable.
Hoffmann: But this could be the first step towards intelligent machines that could develop their own agenda.
Wozniak: It might involve a little bit of what you might call artificial intelligence, it might even involve a lot of it to work out which parts of the car had already been covered. It might have more “brains” than any of today’s self-driving cars have but I wouldn’t worry about it being intelligent and getting its own ideas and saying: “Hey, I’m going to get more power over humans.” We aren’t even close to thinking about that sort of thing. There are a lot of people throwing those fears out there and I was, too, about three years ago. Even before Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates started to talk about it. And then I thought out what would really have to happen in terms of software and hardware and devices to ever get to that state and I can’t see it for hundreds of years.
Read the original article on Business Insider Deutschland. This post originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland and has been translated from German. Copyright 2018. Follow Business Insider Deutschland on Twitter.
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