Lifetime of Achievement: Steve Wozniak

Since designing his first computer at the age of 13, Steve Wozniak has truly helped shape the computing industry

A Silicon Valley icon, technology entrepreneur and philanthropist for more than 40 years, Steve Wozniak has helped shape the computing industry with his design of Apple’s first line of products and his influence over the Macintosh. 

Growing up in San Jose, California, Wozniak - commonly known as ‘Woz’ - designed his first computer at the age of 13, joining the University of Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences in 1971.

From the campus, Wozniak and his friend Steve Jobs sold “blue boxes,” illegal devices that enabled anyone to make free long–distance calls. In 1976, Woz dropped out of Berkeley to return to the South Bay, landing a job designing calculator chips for Hewlett-Packard. On the side he wrote arcade game software for Atari, where Jobs worked.

In 1976, Wozniak and Jobs founded Apple Computer Inc. with Wozniak’s Apple I personal computer. The following year, he introduced his Apple II personal computer, featuring a central processing unit, a keyboard, colour graphics, and a floppy disk drive - which was integral in launching the personal computer industry. Since then, Wozniak has been listed as the sole inventor on four Apple patents.

"If you look back at the first Apple II, it had about 10 features that had never been done in a low cost computer,” Wozniak said in a 1984 interview with Creative Computing. “We built in many things that had never been built-in a low cost computer. We built in many things that had never been built-in before. Almost every one of those things - graphics, text, large ROMs including languages like Basic, plastic cases, speakers, paddles, colour  - have been built into computers since then.”

Apple IPO and return to UC Berkeley

In 1980, Apple Computer hit Wall Street, garnering the largest IPO since Ford Motor Company went public. He returned to UC Berkeley one year later and finished his degree in electrical engineering/computer science. To date, Wozniak has received 10 Honorary Doctor of Engineering degrees. Wozniak founded the company Unuson, an abbreviation of “unite us in song”, which sponsored US Festivals in 1982 and 1983. Initially intended to celebrate evolving technologies, the festivals ended up as a technology exposition and a rock festival as a combination of music, computers, television, and people.

For his achievements at Apple, Wozniak was awarded the National Medal of Technology by President Ronald Reagan in 1985, the highest honour bestowed on America’s leading innovators. In 2000, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and was awarded the prestigious Heinz Award for Technology, The Economy and Employment for single-handedly designing the first personal computer and for then redirecting his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward lighting the fires of excitement for education in grade school students and their teachers.

Philanthropic ventures

Through the years, Wozniak has been involved in various business and philanthropic ventures, focusing primarily on computer capabilities in schools and stressing hands-on, experiential learning that encourages creativity and innovation by students. Making significant investments of both his time and resources in education, Wozniak adopted the Los Gatos School District, providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment.

He also founded the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and was the founding sponsor of the Tech Museum, Silicon Valley Ballet and Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. 

In 2014, he was awarded the Hoover Medal, a prestigious honour given for “outstanding extra-career services by engineers to humanity,” and was inducted into the IndustryWeek Manufacturing Hall of Fame. In 2015, Wozniak received the Legacy for Children Award from the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose. The Legacy for Children Award honours individuals whose legacy has significantly benefited the learning and lives of children. The Cal Alumni Association (UC Berkeley’s Alumni Association) presented Wozniak with the 2015 Alumnus of the Year Award.

Wozniak is the author of iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon (Norton Publishing), his New York Times best-selling autobiography. His television appearances include: ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, The Big Bang Theory, My Life on the D List, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Conan, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Celebrity Watch Party.

Wozniak continues to pursue his entrepreneurial and philanthropic interests to this day. In October 2017, Steve co-founded Woz U — a postsecondary education and training platform focused on software engineering and technology development. Recently, he has co-founded the blockchain-based energy saving trading platform Efforce — which leverages disparate applications of blockchain technology.

In May 2023, Wozniak was among a number of prominent figures in the technology world calling for a pause in the development of AI. In an interview with the BBC, Wozniak warned that AI could make scams and misinformation harder to spot.

“AI is so intelligent it's open to the bad players, the ones that want to trick you about who they are,” he said.

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