The 'Idea Man' comes to town
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has public conversation at the Computer History Museum
Space enthusiasts, computer engineers, software designers, neurologists, astronomers, cancer survivors and aspiring entrepreneurs all had good reason to fork out $32 to attend Monday night's event at the Computer History Museum.
The conversation between Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas was the latest installment of the museum's "Revolutionaries" series, which is meant to accompany the new exhibit, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. The conversation was co-sponsored by Kepler's, the independent bookstore in Menlo Park.
Allen talked with Vargas in support of his new book, "Idea Man," which discusses the good and bad parts of his life.
"I've had some great successes and some signature failures," Allen told Vargas.
Aside from becoming one of the richest men in the world through his creation of one of the most well-known companies on the planet, Allen is also a philanthropist. He has contributed significantly to, or founded, many large-scale projects, such as SpaceShipOne, which pioneered the first private flight into outer space; the Allen Institute for Brain Science, which has drafted the first comprehensive gene map of the human brain; the Allen Telescope Array, which has been used by the University of California at Berkeley to scour the cosmos for signs of intelligent life; and the Experience Music Project, a critically acclaimed music museum in Seattle. He is also a survivor of lymphoma.
Jonathan Devor, an astronomy hobbyist from Santa Clara, said he admires Allen's work on the telescope array. "If he's got something to say, I want to hear it," Devor said. "He is a fascinating person."
The conversation began with a discussion of Allen's early life and friendship with Bill Gates — a friendship that ultimately turned sour after Allen left Microsoft. "In retrospect, how lucky was I to have a partner as capable as Bill Gates?" he asked rhetorically.
Vargas then asked Allen about some of his ventures and his thoughts on the future of technology.
Tablet computers will be big, Allen said, noting that catching up to Apple's iPad is not impossible, but that it will be difficult. He also said that artificial intelligence technology is poised to grow in ways that are hard to imagine at the moment.
When asked about his thoughts on mortality and fight with cancer, Allen replied: "I consider myself very lucky."
After the talk, Allen fans lined up to get copies of his book signed.
Ray Ewan, a 48-year-old from San Francisco, said that Allen was an inspiration for him as a child. "He was just following his passion and he ended up creating something great," Ewan said of Allen.
Lenny Khazan, a 12-year-old, waited with his sister for Allen's signature. "I'm very interested in computers and technology," Lenny said. "I find it fascinating."
It is an attitude Allen surely would appreciate. During his conversation with Vargas, a Mountain View High school alum and former Voice intern, one of the moments that got the biggest laugh from the audience was when Allen recalled: "Bill and I would literally dive in dumpsters for sheets of code" that had been thrown out by computer labs. He had one word for the way he viewed that code back then: "Beautiful."