Remembering Paul Allen: 1953 - 2018
The ski choir podcast is brought to you by Permira Blue Cross a company that believes the power of innovation and technology will improve customers lives by making healthcare work better, see what's cooking inside premier as test kitchen at premier dot com. Slash innovation that's p. r. e. m. e. r. a. dot com. Slash innovation, welcome to acquire. I'm geekwire co, founder, Todd Bishop, and I'm sad to report today that Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen has died at the age of sixty five. Paul Allen was a giant figure at Microsoft and beyond founding huge number of companies, research institutions, philanthropies, and arts organizations. He passed away Monday from complications from non Hodgkin's lymphoma. It was his second fight with the disease and his absence will. We felt in almost every corner of life in Seattle and many other parts of the country. In the world. Impulse memory. We are sharing a conversation I had with him on stage. In two thousand eleven at townhall after the release of his autobiography idea, man, I remember this experience of interviewing Paul and like it was yesterday. I introduced him on stage at townhall and Seattle, and it was like a homecoming. You could hear the crowd react to him, and he was so candid in so many things, everything from his relationship with Bill Gates to his yachts and what it was like to have giant boats that went around the world. It was just really a fascinating discussion and have lots of strong memories of being both on stage with him and in the green room beforehand. It was just a really remarkable experience. And I think the tech world and the world at large are worse for his passing. We're glad we can share his words directly with you in this episode and please check geekwire for the most up to date coverage of his passing. Thank you. Everyone for joining us and Paul. I want to thank you for doing this with us tonight for being here and welcome home to Seattle. Thanks crazy in front of the crowd. I'd like to start with a question that I know is on the minds of almost every person in this room, particularly given the events of the past few weeks and Paul. It involves a relationship that I know is very important to you. It's a relationship that's had many ups and downs over the years. Many triumphs and challenges and currently faces an uncertain future. So I just want to get this question out of the way right off the bat is Matt Hasselbeck coming back to the hawks next year. Something else. That's a, that's a very good question, but obviously we're in, we're kind of. No-man's-land into labor dispute right now. So when that's when that's over, I'm sure we'll talk to men is agent again, but there's there's nothing resolved at this point. That's great. I didn't actually expect a serious answer that. I thought this was supposed to be serious. I hope there's some sports reporters in audience. Paul at the end of idea, man, you describe the book as one of the hardest things that you've done in your life, which is actually a pretty remarkable statement. What did you learn about yourself through the process of writing this book? Well, it was interesting process. I'd always intended to do a book at some point, just going through my my career and technology in the amazing spectrum of opportunities I've had and things I've been able to pursue. But when I got sick in November, October, November of nine of two thousand and nine, I just really it was it was time to do it because I wasn't sure it'd be able to finish it so so I went working on the book. I would get up each day and try to get down some of my thoughts and and it helped me get the process of doing that. Helped me get through each day was stimulated my brain, and but when you do something like this. You know there, there's a real. Revisiting of both the ups and downs of your life, and there's definitely some peak moments in some. And so you know, moments of that where things happen that weren't necessarily what you hope for or tough or you had to make tough decisions. And so some of those moments when you revisit them. And especially you. Go back over them over and over again because another thing that happened is my background in computer programming in a certain way was re was reenergized in terms of the editing of the book. I ended it every word in the book eight times. And I remember that I'm kind of a stickler for exactness. And so when you go over those tough moments, eight after eight times, he just you just don't want to do it much more. But but it was a rewarding who's very warning to do it. This book received a lot of coverage in the media prior to its release. In fact, it's somewhat ironic. I think one of the advantages of telling your own story usually is that you get to tell your own story, but in in some ways that didn't happen in this case. For those who are just getting the book who may have read some of the media coverage or the excerpts, what messages do you hope they actually take away from the the real book and what you've written here? Well, I'm someone that I basically get very, very excited about the creative process and creating things and having ideas, and, and when you see those ideas realized it's, it's just a wonderfully warning things. So obviously, being fortunate to be involved in in the birth of Microsoft, and then recently things like the brain institute, those are amazingly rewarding things that that that that carry on a Carolina, certain legacy that I'm very, I'm very proud of. And then of course, there's there's parts were things are more challenging and you make mistakes. So I hope people and they read the book can take away some lessons from from my mistakes and and ups and downs over the years to. But, but basically I hope they get. Sense of me as a person who's creative, and then maybe you can think about three to possibly as in your your own life based on what's in the book. Has your candor about Bill Gates in the book, jeopardize your longtime friendship with him? I don't think so, but I, I'm sure there are things in the bugs that that Bill wants to discuss and and he'll have a different slant about them. And Bill. And I've had many intense discussions over the years, and we haven't had a chance to talk about the book since it was published. I gave him a copy months ahead of publication, so he'd have a head start on it so that that discussion. We'll be very, very intense and he'll be very direct in as well. I do you think you'll be able to move on from that? Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Obviously, we've, we've gone through so many things. Over the years and and. My departure, his his, his leaving, Microsoft retiring, I'm east German, Microsoft is is retirement. I'm so many different things over the years, and we both tried to help each out in different ways over the years to as I talk about on the book when he came to visit me when I was sick. Yeah, absolutely. You recently went through a second bout with cancer. And you write in the book, fits your illness. The second time has made you simultaneously more patient and less patient at. Can you explain for the audience in for us from people who may not have read the book, what you meant by that? Well, I think you're more patient because you realize that, you know, whenever you go through one of these treatment regimens, there's there's, there are many things that are completely out of your control, and you just have to be patient and and hope things work out for the best and be and be optimistic and take a positive positive attitude. On the other hand, you realize if there isn't a positive outcome, they your time maybe limited. So it makes you that much more focused on on realising your dreams and hopes because all of our times on this planet or are limited. So so it basically you're hit over the head with that idea when when these things happen and. It gives you an impetus to celebrate the things you really care about. So how has it changed how you plan to approach the remainder of your life? Will we see new things in your life as a result of that experience? No, I'm guessing guesting a wider net and I'm trying to move forward. Some of these things like the brain is trying to make them more ambitious and more successful in their scope. Not just the rain is to, but other things that we're working on and to try to realize those things were quickly. And certainly in technology is it's almost true that you can't move. You can't do quickly, but things like research research on the brain that takes decades. You're, you're trying to plan the course of an organization that's hopefully going to have an impact ten twenty thirty fifty years in the future. So it's all those things. And of course, just on another very important note. I mean, you realize I realize when I was three and of course I realized, again this time when when I found out that I was unfortunately sick again, that you know, you're the support you get from your your family and friends is so key to getting through any of these kinds of illnesses. You're also very candidate in the book about your feelings about your analysis of present day Microsoft. It's a great chapter in the book called hell house, referring to the lineup of Facebook and Google, and apple, and all the others that are eating Microsoft's lunch in some ways. If you're still if you're still around us chief technology officer, for example, what would you do? What would be your prescription for Microsoft today? Well, when these new platforms, the PC was a new platform. So one of these new platforms come come into existence or come into existence in a very strong new way, whether it's the iphone, coming on the scene or the ipad coming on the scene, you have to recognize those jumped on the opportunity and and be competitive as fast as you can. And I think. You know, I think Microsoft is trying its best to address those now, but they're they're trying to creep up on the and match the competition here. That's already got a very strong presence in an iphone and Google's Android. So these new platforms are are key, and you just, you just can't. You have to have the Jilay. You can't miss the opportunity and let others almond opportunity. And so I think Microsoft is pulling out all the stops. Now as far as I understand from talking to people there to try to recapture those opportunities. So bit of a litmus test here do carry an iphone windows phone, Android, or blackberry. Actually, I'm little bit old school. I use a blackberry. My mother, my mother, God lesser. Forced me to take touch typing when I was sixteen, I might thumbs. I got really fast thumbs on the blackberry keyboard. Not so much on. And so I sent quite a few emails every day. So so I'm sure at some point I'll I'll convert to. Two new platform it what might that. What might that new platform deal evaluating? I'm still. I'm looking all the alternatives and I tried to, I think it's important. You know, if you love technology to try the different alternatives to try the iphone and and the new, the new windows mobile phone is a is a is a great is a great platform, so an Android. So I've tried them all and they're all different. They're all interesting and but my whole my whole things to try to imagine where technology is going to go one, two, three, four, five years from now and see where the chips that are in the products of developing and see how that's going to influence things and then see how the software that's coming along and influence the platforms. So I think it's fast. Then this is kind of my. I don't know. I consider my forte is trying to understand where things are going. I don't think you do that without without trying all the different alternatives. You're listening to geekwire. We are playing a conversation that I had back in two thousand eleven with Paul Allen the co, founder of Microsoft in remembrance of his life. As we report the news today, Monday October fifteenth twenty eighteen of his passing at the age of sixty five. We'll be right back. This geekwire podcast is brought to you by Permira Blue Cross. We sat down with Torben Nielsen premier as vice president of innovation and strategic investments to talk about the Permira chat bot developed in partnership with Microsoft. We call upon scouts without you could ask a, where am I at with my deductibles? Or am I eligible for particular procedure those some of the use cases and we solving full right now and that we'll be launching over the next few months. And as we learn from our members, how they engage with scout of we scout becomes more and more intelligent. That's part of the machine learning process. And that's part of the expertise that we partnering with Microsoft on learn more about technology and innovation at Premera Blue Cross at Permira dot com. Slash innovation. That's p r e m e r a dot com slash innovation. MAC, windows or Lennox, windows come on. Store wars, Star Trek or battle star galactica. All. Okay. In another setting. I would press on that, but I think he got some fans in the audience. On the subject of science fiction. One of the things that you mentioned in the book is the inspiration that this book played in your life rocket ship Galileo. In fact, I was inspired to go find it on EBay. As a result of your mentioned, it's about teenage boys who build a rocket in the desert and blast off to the moon and the parallels to your own life or are hard to miss. What did science fiction mean to you as a kid? How did it shape your life and how's it still part of your life today? Well, I still read a fair bit of science fiction, just just for fun. I think back in those days, the concepts of of whether it's communication satellites or going to the moon. I mean in in this in the late fifties and sixties, you know, we used to go, I went to Ravenna school and nor CLA used to wheel in the TV on a carton we'd watch the mercury and Apollo. Launches in grade school, I guess I guess by Apollo, you're talking about actually about two hundred high in high school, but but so there was that love of, I mean, space space and space. Travel was in the air and I'll never forget. You know, my mother loves my my parents, both my parents love, love glitz. My father worked university of Washington libraries and as as a manager there. And so I grew up around books and my mother working this thrift store. She would always say in the problem was she would price books at the thrift store. So every day she'd say, and then she'd come home with a sack of books and and she say, well, how can you not by good but for fifteen cents. And so she. We supposed to be selling these books. So I grew up around so many books, but one time he took me to. To the library in Wedgewood. And I found in the SCI fi in the juvenile science fiction section, I found rocket ship Galileo, and that was my entree to to science fiction, and I just loved it. And I think it inspires your creativity and your ability to think out of the box and think that you know, wild and crazy ideas are possible, and it's just amazes me that I've been able to to live and see realize some of those wild and crazy ideas like spaceship, one. Speaking of spatial one. You obviously accomplished much there in collaboration with your team. It's an understatement. Why not continue with that and get into get into commercialization of space, full full-bore and widely. That's a guys like Richard Branson. I mean, does he really deserve to ride on your coat tails with that. Well, Richard Richard is super fast about. Private commercial. Space, tourism and more power to him, and and they've licensed technologies in space ship one for for their for spaceship to. If you talk about getting to orbit, you have to have a much bigger rocky, basically take seven over seven times as much energy to get a pound of anything or a person into space. So so that means a much bigger rocket and much more capable system. So I'm very intrigued. By the possibilities of doing something like that, but but no announcement yet, I did find the experience as a programmer of seeing a test pilot. Go straight up at mach five and this rocket that's been built in a couple of years and with some brand new software in it. I mean, Microsoft. If you got a, you're developing something, you've got an air message, you say, okay, fine. We'll start again just by it. That's what I used to do. Something goes wrong in a rocket and usually extremely. There's an extremely bad outcome. So. So before the flights I would, I would have a speech in my pocket basically saying, I'm, I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen. We've had. We've had a departure from normal flight and there's been a fatality, whatever. She had to be ready for that. And that was very far from my from my experience. So. If I do something like that, I'll have to be cognizant of those risks. Those test pilots are extremely brave. Individuals. And skilled. You mentioned earlier, the Allen institute for brain science and the potential impact of the Allen institute maybe hard for non-scientists understand. Can you paint a picture for us of what the world will be like someday, how it will be different if the research that you're funding accomplishes, what you hope? Well, any brain research is along. I, I'll say any any brain research is a long term project because it's so amazingly complex and soul, mysterious and just bear. We're just starting to understand the outlines of how things work, I guess is how I would. I would characterize it. So there's two different aspects to the question. One is understanding how the human brain or any brain the mouse brain is actually the brain that we did I instead of rains did I. How, how do they work? How do they function? How do they react to their environment and and learn and reacted novel ways. Process of formation. It's so completely different. The way computer does. And as in some of the program computers that fascinates me. I mean, the brain is designed was designed by Evelyn, so each part of it is optimized for what it does. And so it's incredibly incredibly complex and I and I like to think recently about the idea of there's a complexity brake that slows you down because you want them and you get these things, you think, okay, I'm starting to understand this, then you realize, oh no, no, it's ten or one hundred times more complex to fully understand that thing that aspect of the rain that you thought. So anyway, this there's, there's the whole set of things. Excuse me. The has to do with understanding how the brain works. So that's so that's completely fast. That's completely fascinating as you know, just because we all went understand really how how to our blinds work. Why are we who we are all those always amazing questions and ultimately will arrive at some, you know, decades from. Now we'll understanding what rive at a much better understanding of that. Then there's, you know, trying to understand basically at at a chemical level and a biologic level, how the different parts of the brain work. And if you did, and if you understood that and those aspects of the medical aspects of the rain, then you could possibly bring forward treatments to neuro degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, so which which my mother suffers from so. So you so you. So you're very hopeful when you do these things like release our date on the mouse brain, which is which important experimental animal. And now I said, if you brains that will bring forward and make happen earlier some some possible treatments for those diseases, how optimistic are you now. I'm very optimistic and the approach we've taken with these fairly unique, not completely unique, but it's like the human genome project. We are trying to put a database information online that scientists around the world can access for free, and that will exhilarate all of their research. They don't have to say, okay, genetics, human brain. I need to start slicing up some tissue that date is already online so they can say, okay, gene, that's related to Prozac what parts of the brain are affected by Prozac. And then if you combine Prozac was something else you have. Anyone can tell you many, many things, and it can still write all potentially gonna Hillary all of their research so that to get to the core of the problem. So we really understand something every all these side different scientists can benefit and and amazingly. And worryingly it's become kind of it's become a standard tool for scientists to use care about the genetics of the brand already. Speaking of the brain. Let's talk about music for a second. This is a topic that I wanted to explore and based on some of the questions you do too. So when it makes a few of your questions in with mine, my band is here tonight too, but they're not playing citizen. I care about them. I saw them downstairs. They look quite the group they are, but I won't get into that. In the book you write about the catharsis of playing music and you talk about how you're on a good riff and your shoulders just sinking. What does music mean to you? Well. Well, I mean, music music is a is another mysterious thing, but it's a form of of expression. So you can play. Just not of a blues tune, and yet when you play a solo on that, you can. You can go to a creative place where you're just riffing in your own particular way with your own expression. And it's just a wonderful. It's a wonderful thing. And be able to the book I talk about meeting some of the amazing musicians I've been able to play with over time those those experiences have you know, because I, I consider myself a decent, amateur guitar player. Some of these people are, you know, there's a reason, you know, Mick Jagger or bond, or any of these people. They are extremely talented, what they do. I mean, amazing and they can improvise. And I mean, it's extremely creative process. They go through and create their amazing works of art. So I just feel wonder if I just feels wonderful to me to be able to to jam with my band and play some songs and occasionally have these unbelievable experiences you whether it's witnessing others create or or actually occasion very occasionally, be able to play with them. You tell this great story in the book about Bano convincing Mick Jagger too. To place out his faction to sink satisfaction as you play. Can you? Can you explain how how Bono pulled that one off? Well, he's clever one that bottom. Well, we, it was Mick. A friend of mine was throwing a birthday party for for mic, and I brought a bunch of. That we could have kind of. An improvised jam, and I asked a couple times make, you know, you feel like playing and make. He just didn't seem into it. It's like, nah. He lets his birthday party. So then I go, I go to model. I said, I don't know what to do. Mic doesn't want. It doesn't feel like it might be fine. He says, I know what we'll do out sing his song or lease slowly and he'll he'll have to sing it. I know they have to sing it. So so so we start playing satisfaction. And modernising really slowly and mix starts to look nervous like something is something has gone wrong in the universe. That's my song. This has to stop. So he went and grabbed the microphone and he's and he's thinking satisfaction. I'm playing the main rift is at his faction, extremely nervously behind him. And then the song is over. I look over a bottom of Monica lls. Dole Joe. So that was that was that was a fantastic little little interlude there. What's your favorite guitar? Ally play with what's what? Hendrix is favourite. Guitars, finish Stratocaster electric guitar. And it's not that easy to play, but if you can get, you know your your technique, you know halfway decent, then you can make some amazing. Sounds and and feedback and everything else come out of it. I was fortunate to see Jimmy play here in Seattle twice. I think he came three times once at six stadium. I think one set. Keyarena and those. You know, my first concert actually was a key arena, and that was that was a mind blowing. Experience for I guess I was seventy seventeen something like that. So so that was for one. So I was another Seattle was sunny with the feat of trying to learn some of these things. And for years I would play along to record 's without me help try just how does he how the heck does he do that? And. You know? So year after year I would, you know, slave away is I probably is a teenager. I some point I thought, well, I could. I could go into programming or music programming or music. Programming one, but I never stopped playing. And so I kept slowly shutting my way through purple haze year after year. And so after twenty five years. I could play a half decent purple haze. And it was funny to talk to his base player, no reading, and I say what it was like, what was it like with Jimmy, we'd come and he'd say, oh, you come in like after one night and the next day come in and say, here's a simple. The wind cries Mary and you know, I run about half an hour and here we go. Let's let's let's record it. You know, typically twenty five years. So. So it's remarkable that a lot of engineers actually software engineers are musicians as well. It's an interesting correlation and there's other similarities to, you know you're sort of in a band of other programmers. And so some ways you actually you're part of the one of the greatest bands ever. It was called Microsoft's, you know. We had our hits. Few in the top ten there. We'll be right back with more of my two thousand eleven conversation with Paul Allen at town hall in Seattle. Today's podcast is sponsored by dot tech domains. Domain names. Turn your business into a brand. That's why it's so important for top tech entities to find that perfect Demane name short memorable and relevant brands like Intel. The consumer electronic show in Viacom are already using dot tech registered. You're dot tech domain. Now go to get dot tech. That's g. e. t. dot tech and use code geekwire to get ninety percent off a one or five year registration. This episode of the geekwire podcast is brought to you in part by the university of Washington's department of human centered design and engineering, a nationally recognized program in user experience. Research and design companies can now sign up for their November first career, fair, and recruit top notch talent skilled in tackling design challenges with a people centered approach Seymour at bit dot l. y. slash h c, d, e, career, fair. You explain in the book shifting back a little bit to business here you explain in the book that one of your abilities. One of your knacks is to see what's next to piece together, different things that are coming up dating back to your early days. Reading the early hobbyist magazines in piece them together into one big idea and recognize that that's the thing you need to pursue. Why haven't more of your ideas since Microsoft seen more commercial success. Well, sometimes you can be too early. That's one poss-. There's many ways. Having the ideas not sufficient, you have to have a great team of people. You have to be able to execute realize the idea. You have to convince people to to try out the idea and market and sell it. And if you're volved in big companies, there's financial aspects you have to be very, very cognizant of to make sure everything's in good shape financially. So I talk in the book very directly about all the different ways. Things can go wrong with which there are a few. So. Yeah, so that's, that's that's, you know, that's just, but that's part of the creative and you try things and you're a risk taker, some number of those things that are going gonna fail. Now, if you read the book, you'll know some ways to avoid those things. The failure. So I hope I'm just I'm just joking. No. You did help to create one of the most successful startups in the history of the world. What have you learned through that experience and through your more recent experiences about the most important ingredients for creating successful businesses? Again, I mean, the first thing you start with start with the idea and to get to the idea. My approach is always been just it's Macy Molo random, but it's just to stuff your your brain with as many ideas as much information about in this case, computer chips and software kind of your brain can stand. And then I'm just lucky enough to every once in a while. I'll see a connection between two things like microprocessor chips and software. In this case, the basic language was just what Microsoft's first product was. So you have to have the idea that you have to find the team, and I was lucky to meet villain highschool. And we met another guy at Harvard that could write the math part of the basic. And so we had a team there that turned out that. I basic and under two months, and then I flew out Albuquerque with it so that so that the to have the right team and then you have to, you know, there is definitely some luck of of, you know, microprocessors the marketplace. The alter computer was there and and we had a customer and the next thing you knew we were often running and then everybody wanted our basic. So all of those factors come into play since leaving Microsoft, your primary focus in business and technology has been as an investor did you ever consider or would you even consider today picking one of your ideas and making a comeback as a day to day chief technology officer. No, I really leave. I really leave the development of programs and those things to to people that are familiar with having implement things these days, my knowledge of of implementation, although I could get back in there and s and really tough question, but it's which I do. I do. Yeah, that's one of the things I do is I try to ask the best possible questions I can, but CTO. No, but I do look at user interfaces that was, I always felt that was really interesting. Way to add value. So I do look at those things and and people in different organizations that that I've spent time with will tell you that. You know, just the craft of technology. If you follow it through the years is is a place you can add. You can add valley. You and Bill. This is an audience question. You and Bill started at a time when the microprocessor was being revolutionized into the next generation. What do you see as the next evolution or revolution? And it doesn't specify subject area, but is there something along those lines coming up that that you see is equivalent to the revolution of the microprocessor. Well, equivalent to the microprocessor. No, that that was a radical change both both. Well, basically, in performance, you got a very low price suddenly. I mean, all of a sudden people could could buy computer that could do something for thousand dollars, and they did. So so that was amazing. I think when I looked at a future now, I think of both these new platforms that are mentioned the smartphone platform and the tablet platform. But I think if where we're software can be ten fifteen twenty years from now and how we can build more artificial intelligence and things like that. I think recently people have seen with with Watson that won the won, the beat human players on jeopardy. That's an example, but not the only one of the way for you have another project at rejoin that Vulcan called halo, which is which is trying to encode the knowledge in a biology textbook into into software. So you can ask questions, it's, it's, it's very, very challenging to do some of those things. So you can't things that I'm basis. You have to look at a very long time frame to. Actualise them, but there's there's so many exciting here. I've just looked looking the re the last five, six, seven years. Social networks came from nowhere. You're on Twitter, what? What do you think of Twitter and Facebook and all that? Well, I was thinking the other day I was thinking. You know, I should. I should send out some some tweet, like as kind of a joke, saying, bitter billionaire retires. This is my last tweet. Lookout. Howard Hughes. Coming to going to biggest today. But. Nice. But yes, I just don't like ice station zebra that much. I can't see my that was that was his favorite movie. He just sit there watching it over and anyway, can't see. It can't see it. No, no. But I think anything where where you can follow, you know, people that are sending out. I think the most interesting thing about Twitter, for example, is people will send you links to things. They find interesting articles, and so now they're starting to appear. Some things that will show you all the articles directly of a things that you know that that kind of taste makers and people that follow technology. I mean, if you look on my Twitter account, you're going to see people everywhere from comedy to technology to science. It's a pretty broad range of of different things. I think that's a great way of helping you aggregate stimulating knowledge and trans and things like that. And then you have things like then you have Facebook and the other sites like that that are more about staying in touch with your friends. And you know the research social animals that it's amazing if you think about why wasn't. Why wasn't something like like Facebook done years earlier? It could have been. There was nothing stopping that from occurring it. You have to have the idea. So there's always things that come down the pike that you don't expect that suddenly affect Oliver lives in a great way. And I think that's one of the wonderful aspects of technology that was Paul Allen in two thousand eleven speaking with me at townhall after the release of his book idea, man to find much more coverage of his life and impact on the tech world. Go to geekwire dot com. Thanks for listening. Everybody and rest in peace. Paul until next time I'm Todd Bishop. You're listening to geekwire.