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The Woz Comes to USF, Chats with Thousands in the Sun Dome

By Keith Morelli

Steve Wozniak

Photo Credit: Mark LoMoglio, USF Sun Dome

TAMPA (February 20, 2018) -- What came through loud and clear during Steve Wozniak's chat in front of more than 2,000 people in the USF Sun Dome on Tuesday wasn't his expertise in engineering, his philanthropy, his entrepreneurship. But rather, it was his humanity.

Wozniak, who likes to be called The Woz, is the co-founder of Apple, but this tech genius's take on life may surprise many. He talked about the triumph of humanity, how technology enhances the human experience. He refuted the assertion that technology is erasing humanity, that one day, computers will take over even the most complex functions typically reserved for the human intellect. That, he said, can never happen, simply because of the way humans are wired. Rather, he said, technology will help humankind flourish, he said.

"Technology is imbedded in humans to be better," he said. "Fillings in your teeth is an example." What's important, he said, is this: "Humans always must be more important. That shouldn't ever change."

What machines can never do, he said, is match human intuition.

Wozniak spoke to an appreciative crowd who laughed at his humor and applauded his comments through the hour-long chat with Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem. The Woz was the inaugural speaker at the Muma College of Business Thought Leader Series, which was established to draw nationally recognized speakers, innovators, idea generators, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, authors and "turn-around artists" in business and industry.

"What an amazing person Steve Wozniak is," said Limayem later Tuesday evening. "He was the perfect choice to kick off the Muma College of Business Thought Leader Series. It is very important for us to expose our business students to thought leaders who have a significant impact on society.

"And for our first thought-leader awardee," he said, "we could not have selected a better person. Inspiring, successful and not afraid to share his lessons learned. He is what we all should aspire to be."

Answering a question about young people not interacting anymore because of the isolating nature of technology, Wozniak said that is not the case.

Young, normally shy people are connecting with people with like minds and similar interests all over the world because of technology, he said. It doesn't really matter if they're face to face or not.

The jovial personality who has freely ranged from engineering genius to middling hoofer on "Dancing with the Stars," was comfortable answering questions posed by Limayem, the crowd through Twitter and even student questions plucked from a fishbowl on stage.

Asked about what advice he would give to recent college graduates intent on starting a business and making it rich, Wozniak said they should slow down.

"When you get out of college, what's the most important thing in your life?" he asked. "It's getting your life started."

He said they should get into a line of work "that is about your ideas ... Your purpose should never be how to make a lot of money. Your purpose should be how to best display your talents."

He should know. Aside from making an incredible amount of cash from his labor of love at Apple, he has maintained a personality that is down to earth and relatable, it seemed, to everyone in the Sun Dome. He flew into Tampa the night before on a commercial flight and drove to the Sun Dome by himself in the back seat of an SUV.

He tries to stay away from politics, saying he never votes in presidential elections, or at least never for anyone who has a chance of winning. He lamented the recent moves by the government on net neutrality, saying it could restrict the free access to the Internet the United States has enjoyed over the past 40 or so years and result in a windfall for rich people poised to make more on the ruling.

He did profess some concern on technology invading personal privacy. Private conversations are just that, not something that can someday be picked up by a television set, a computer on the desk or voice recognition box on the coffee table.

Still, he said, change does improve the human condition, for the most part.

"Change is good," he said. "Why else are we driven to do it?"

The Woz is a big guy with a big smile who does huge things; things that are outside his comfort zone like opening up his own university for computer geeks. That's his new project, Woz U, a digital institute sharing the knowledge of how to navigate a keyboard and work a mouse to find new ways across cyberspace.

Forty years ago, he was the engineering genius who came up with the first line of personal computers, which evolved into devices that almost everyone uses today.

Throughout the development of Apple as a groundbreaking technology company, most of the attention was on Wozniak's fellow co-founder, Steve Jobs, the partnership's businessman. So, lost in the media glare was the fact that Wozniak was the sole inventor of the Apple I, the first home computer that used a keyboard and screen, and Apple II, the first model to use color graphics and understand a computer language.

He talked about engineering computer components in those days when he worked out of his garage and selling them for next to nothing or giving them away to friends and colleagues. It wasn't until Apple II rolled out to the public that the company really began making money.

But, Wozniak is more than just an electrical engineer, programmer and entrepreneur. He is a philanthropist, who once gave about $100 million worth of Apple stock to coworkers he felt got stiffed by the company. He has donated laptops to school districts, online accounts and Internet access to countless students and teachers.

After making millions from his devices in the 1980s, Wozniak returned to the University of California-Berkley to get his bachelor's degree in engineering and computer science. He enrolled under the name Rocky Raccoon Clark to avoid publicity. That actually is the name on his diploma. He also racked up such ridiculously high scores on Tetris that Nintendo Power magazine refused to print them under his name. His solution, play under the name Evets Kainzow (hold that up to a mirror).

Returning to an educational setting is nothing new for the Woz. He holds 10 honorary engineering doctorates from schools that range from the University of Colorado at Boulder (from which he was expelled as a freshman over a hacking issue), Escuela Superior Politécnica del University in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Michigan State University and the University Camilo Jose Cela in Madrid, Spain.

He's been a guest on Howard Stern and dated comedienne Kathy Griffin. He parodied his character on a little known television series called "Code Monkeys" and he played himself on mega-hit "The Big Bang Theory." He once was on a Segway polo team called the Silicon Valley Aftershocks.

Wozniak's motivation as an inventor and involvement with the technological community has resulted in a slew of accolades and accomplishments. In 1985, he and Jobs, received the National Medal of Technology from President Ronald Reagan. In 2000, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2001, he was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for Technology. In 2014, the New York City Chapter of Young Presidents' Organization presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

As he gets older, he admitted, ideas come more infrequently these days.

"The freshest ideas come from young people," he said. "Look at all the big startups. They have more energy, they work more hours. Their brains go off in more places. It does bother me a little bit. I wish I could put things into action. I do feel like I'm a drain on society, more than giving, although my job now is being an inspiration to young people."