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People of Long Now

Danny Hillis

Co-chair of the Board of Directors

Danny Hillis is Co-Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company creating a range of new products and services in software, entertainment, electronics, biotechnology and mechanical design. The company also provides advanced technology, creative design and consulting services to a variety of clients.

Previously, Hillis was Vice President, Research and Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and a Disney Fellow. He developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney’s theme parks, television, motion pictures, and consumer products businesses. He also designed new theme park rides, a full-sized walking robot dinosaur and various micro mechanical devices.

Danny Hillis is an inventor, scientist, author, and engineer. He pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 100 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. Danny Hillis is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock.

Hillis co-founded Thinking Machines Corp., which was the leading innovator in massive parallel supercomputers and RAID disk arrays. In addition to conceiving and designing the company’s major products, Hillis worked closely with his customers in applying parallel computers to problems in astrophysics, aircraft design, financial analysis, genetics, computer graphics, medical imaging, image understanding, neurobiology, materials science, cryptography and subatomic physics. At Thinking Machines, he built a technical team comprised of scientists and engineers that were widely acknowledged to have been among the best in the industry.

Dr. Hillis has published scientific papers in journals such as Science, Nature, Modern Biology, Communications of the ACM and International Journal of Theoretical Physics and he is an editor of several other scientific journals, including Artificial Life, Complexity, Complex Systems, Future Generation Computer Systems and Applied Mathematics. He has also written extensively on technology and its implications for publications such as Newsweek, Wired, Forbes ASAP and Scientific American. In his most recently published book, The Pattern on the Stone, he explains the basic ideas that make computers work.

Dr. Hillis has worked as a consultant to many companies developing technology-related business strategies, including AT&T, Xerox, Kodak, Schlumberger, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, as well as smaller companies such as Screaming Media, H5Technologies (formerly Ejemoni), Alexa Internet, and Direct Medical Knowledge. He has served on numerous company boards, and was named as part of Upside Magazine’s “Dream Team” board of directors. He is also an advisor to the U.S. government, and has served on the Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee.

In addition to his leadership role at Applied Minds, he is co-chairman of The Long Now Foundation, research professor of engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and professor of research medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and serves on the board of the Hertz Foundation. He has served on the Science Board of the Santa Fe Institute, the Advisory Board of Yale’s Institute for Biospheric Studies, and the SETI Institute’s Technical Advisory Committee. Dr. Hillis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the inaugural Dan David Prize for shaping and enriching society and public life, the Spirit of American Creativity Award for his inventions, the Hopper Award for his contributions to computer science and the Ramanujan Award for his work in applied mathematics. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Association of Computing Machinery, a Fellow in the International Leadership Forum, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Background and Education

Born Sept. 25, 01956 in Baltimore, Maryland, Danny Hillis spent much of his childhood living overseas, in Europe, Africa, and Asia. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and received his bachelor of science degree in mathematics in 01978. As an undergraduate he worked at the MIT Logo Laboratory developing computer hardware and software for children. During this time he also designed computer-oriented toys and games for the Milton Bradley Co. While still a college student he was co-founder of Terrapin Inc., a producer of computer software for elementary schools. As a graduate student at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Hillis designed tendon-control robot arms and a touch-sensitive robot "skin." He also built a computer composed entirely of Tinkertoys. It is on display at the Boston Computer Museum.

During this time Danny Hillis began to study the physical limitations of computation and the possibility of building highly parallel computers. This work culminated in 01985 with the design of a massively parallel computer with 64,000 processors. He named it the Connection Machine, and it became the topic of his Ph.D. He received his doctorate degree in computer science from MIT in 01988. Later he was appointed adjunct professor at the MIT Media Lab.

In 01983 while he was finishing up his degree at MIT, Hillis co-founded Thinking Machines Corp. to produce and market the Connection Machine. The company's customers included American Express, Dow Jones, Schlumberger, Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Tokyo, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA. He continued to lead Thinking Machines’ technical team until 01995 when he left to start a small consulting company, DHSH. One of DHSH’s clients was The Walt Disney Company, and in 01996 Hillis joined Disney full time in the newly created role of Disney Fellow.

Besides his professional interests, Hillis is also an enthusiastic student, carpenter, skier, hiker, tennis player, scuba diver, surveyor, geologist, perfume-maker and helicopter pilot. He is not particularly skilled at any of these, but he has fun. He and his wife Pati home school their three children, Asa, Noah, and India in Los Angeles, California.

Danny Hillis

Co-chair of the Board of Directors

Stewart Brand

Co-chair and President of the Board of Directors

Douglas Carlston

Member of the Board of Directors

Esther Dyson

Member of the Board of Directors

Brian Eno

Member of the Board of Directors

Michael Keller

Member of the Board of Directors

Kevin Kelly

Secretary of the Board of Directors

David Rumsey

Treasurer of the Board of Directors

Paul Saffo

Member of the Board of Directors

Peter Schwartz

Member of the Board of Directors

Kim Polese

Member of the Board of Directors

David Eagleman

Member of the Board of Directors

Ping Fu

Member of the Board of Directors

Emeritus

Mitchell Kapor

Emeritus Member of the Board of Directors

Roger Kennedy

Emeritus Member of the Board of Directors

Chris Anderson

Emeritus Member of the Board of Directors