Co-chair of the Board of Directors
Danny Hillis is Co-founder 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. He is also Co-founder and director of several Applied Minds spinoff companies, including Applied Invention, Applied Proteomics, TouchShare, and Metaweb (acquired by Google). In addition to his leadership role at Applied Minds, he is Judge Widney Professor of Engineering and Medicine at the University of Southern California.
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.
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. Hillis holds hundreds of U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. He is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock, called the Clock of the Long Now.
Hillis earned his doctorate as a Hertz Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the mentorship of Marvin Minsky, Claude Shannon and Gerald Sussman. While a student, he 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 brought together a team of extraordinary scientists and engineers including such pioneers as Sydney Brenner, Richard Feynman, Brewster Kahle, and Eric Lander.
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. Hillis has also written extensively on technology and its implications for publications such as Newsweek, Wired, Forbes ASAP and Scientific American. In his book, The Pattern on the Stone, written while visiting the MIT Media Laboratory, he explains the basic ideas that make computers work. He is the Principle Investigator of the National Cancer Institute’s Physical Sciences in Oncology Laboratory at USC.
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.
Hillis is also co-chairman of The Long Now Foundation. He has served on the board of the Hertz Foundation, 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. 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 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 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, where he wrote Pattern on the Stone.
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. In 01996 Hillis joined The Walt Disney Company full time in the newly created role of Disney Fellow, and as Vice President, Research and Development at Disney Imagineering. While at Disney he began work in earnest on building a mechanical clock that would last 10,000 years. This project became the initial project of The Long Now Foundation, which he co-founded with Stewart Brand. A prototype of the clock is on display at the London Science Museum.
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.