Saturday 20 January 2018

Nerd the news? Silicon Valley Comic Con is Apple of Steve Wozniak's eye

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is helping to create the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con (AP)
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is helping to create the inaugural Silicon Valley Comic Con (AP)

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak had a front-row seat as the personal computer began to reshape society, so it made perfect sense to him to bring a convention meshing technology with pop culture to Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley Comic Con , which takes place from March 18-20 in San Jose, California, is a new, even nerdier, twist on an idea that has brought together fans of science fiction, fantasy and superheroes at packed shows held around the world for years.

"I don't like doing the same thing as everyone else," Mr Wozniak, 65, said. So he teamed up with four other partners to try something slightly different.

Throwing technology into the mix should ratchet up the nerd vibe that ripples through all Comic Cons. A sold-out crowd of about 30,000 engineers, entrepreneurs and pop-culture connoisseurs is expected to swarm into the Silicon Valley event.

The agenda includes a panel devoted to the quantum realm and an "app alley" featuring products from technology start-ups. The marquee attractions on the entertainment side include William Shatner from the original Star Trek and Back To The Future stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson.

Mr Wozniak, 65, is confident the hybrid convention will be a hit.

"The emotions we have for technology now are the same as we get for movies, celebrities and the whole pop culture side of our lives," he said.

That veneration of technology helped turn Mr Wozniak's late Apple partner Steve Jobs into an icon - and his October 2011 death into a worldwide wake.

Mr Wozniak himself has become better known through recent movies that retold the story of Mr Jobs and Apple, as well as his guest appearances on TV shows such as Dancing With The Stars and The Big Bang Theory.

He now works at a Silicon Valley start-up, Primary Data, and also spends about a third of the year on the road, mostly giving speeches and making other public appearances.

"Everyone I go in the world, people just say, 'Thank you, thank you', even if they don't happen to own an Apple product," Mr Wozniak said. "They are just saying thank you for being a part of it all and want to show their love."

Silicon Valley Comic Con is the first major event he has backed since the early 1980s. While on leave from Apple following a plane crash, he financed the US Festivals, a pair of three-day concerts held in the southern California desert.

The events, which featured top acts such as The Police, The Talking Heads, The Clash, David Bowie and Fleetwood Mac, drew massive crowds yet still managed to lose about 26 million dollars (£18m), according to Mr Wozniak.

But he said that would not happen at Silicon Valley Comic Con, which has already sold enough tickets to turn a profit. Some tickets, from 25 to 99 dollars (£17-£68), are still available, though a sell-out crowd of about 30,000 people is expected.

"Ever since starting Apple, I have had the mentality that you should make a profit," Mr Wozniak said. "That was Steve Jobs' big role (at Apple). He believed you start a company to make a profit because that is the only way you are going to go on to build other great things."

Mr Jobs frowned upon Mr Wozniak's involvement in the US Festivals and probably would not have thought much of Silicon Valley Comic Con, according to Mr Wozniak.

"He would have been at it in his very early days, but people change and personalities settle in," he said. "He became more of the businessman taking the world forward with things like the Apple computer."

Although Apple has not introduced another hit product since Mr Jobs' death, Mr Wozniak does not believe the company has lost the "innovation magic" that hatched the iPod, iPhone and iPad during the final decade of its late CEO's tenure.

"Apple is in great shape to innovate for the next 200 years, just with their cash (totalling 216 billion dollars - £149bn)," he said. "That buys a lot of failure. One of the things about innovation is you have to risk failure."

Mr Wozniak is hoping Silicon Valley Comic Con inspires some of the engineers and other entrepreneurs in attendance to gamble on ideas that may seem a little kooky.

"A lot of science fiction starts out as a dream in your head where you go, 'Wow, that would be cool,' and then you have the actual technology people turn it into reality," he said. "That is the process of creation."

Press Association

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