artificial intelligence

“Are you ready?  Ready for the playoffs?”*

…Microsoft Co-founder, Paul Allen is — in a big way.  His “first love”*1, the Portland Trail Blazers, a team that he’s owned for the past 21 years,  has made it into the Playoffs, and no one is more excited than the owner.   One of the most devoted owners in the NBA, Paul Allen has always been his team’s biggest fan.   

Allen attends a majority of the Blazers games, bought the team’s game stadium twice and weighs in enthusiastically on every decision, often splurging on players and expenses.  He installed equipment aboard his ships that lets him watch Blazers games when he is away from home.  And when Allen was asked to give the commencement speech to the graduating class at WSU in 1999, he graciously agreed, but gave it long distance via satellite uplink, speaking to Washington graduates from the Portland Rose Garden Arena so he wouldn’t miss a Playoff game.

So his Trail Blazers’ entry this year into yet another Playoffs series is a thrill—still a major thrill— to a guy who has had more than a few thrilling moments in his lifetime.  Blazermania is back and no one is more caught up in the wave of excitement than the owner himself.

Current adventure, Trail Blazers. Past adventures?  This guy’s had a few.  Hopefully he’ll tell us more about all of them in his upcoming memoirs.   Don’t hold back, Paul—we want to know EVERYTHING !!!!! 🙂

In the meantime, here is a sampling of Paul Allen’s ideas about — Paul Allen, of course — from his statements to the press through the years.  So, here you go….Part Three of Paul Allen: In His Own Words:

The projects you have funded so far cover a wide range of fields. What are the criteria you look for?

“I ask myself: What are the great questions in science, the knowledge that we are just scratching the surface of?  The chance that we are going to pick up the phone and an alien is going to be on the other end is small, but it is certainly worth—on a modest scale, for me—seeing if we can enable some of that research.  There are these greenfield areas like the human brain, systems biology, ­understanding how cells work internally, and how the proteins interact inside the cell. That’s an area I’m thinking about. Then there are the global issues we have today: global warming, the environment, and disease. I don’t know that I could make a difference in theoretical physics; that’s basically a bunch of mathematical and theoretical geniuses at different places. I’m not sure how anyone could make them work any faster than they are.”
The Discover Interview, Evan Ratliff

On Advice to Young People
If you are starting any new venture, try to find people who share your
dreams with the same enthusiasm that you do and that can complement your
strengths and bolster your weaknesses.  Start with small but achievable
dreams and under the right circumstances, these small dreams can lead to
bigger ones. Remember that you have all of the open-mindedness,
fearlessness and enthusiasm of youth.  Believe in the possibility of success.
From Paul Allen’s WSU Speech to graduating class via satellite uplink from the Rose Garden Arena upon receiving the Distinguished Alumnus Award—1999

Quote from the website (years ago):
  “What is the best advice, business or otherwise, you’ve had and from whom?
The best advice I’ve received came many years ago from my father.  He told me that you should love whatever work you do, you should try to find something you truly enjoy.  And I’ve been lucky through the years that the work I’ve been involved with has been challenging and for the most part, fun.”

On Trying New Things:

 You have to find and appreciate the joy and beauty of the world.  And
many times that comes if you force yourself to try things that you
otherwise might be skeptical of beginning.  In my case I discovered
scuba diving, but any kind of adventure that takes you totally out of
your normal life and into a different environment or meeting different
people can be very rewarding. Also, if you force yourself to be more
adventurous, the more ideas and different types of people you will meet
and the richer your life will become intellectually and otherwise…….
 From Paul Allen’s WSU Speech to graduating class via satellite uplink from the Rose Garden Arena upon receiving the Distinguished Alumnus Award–1999

On His Childhood in Seattle:
From “Paul Allen Unplugged” Dec. 2003 Columns UW Magazine
Tom Griffin
 While many of our alumni know of your generous contributions to the University, most don’t know of the UW connections going back to your childhood. Your father Ken Allen began his career with the University libraries in 1951, two years before you were born, and was Associate Director of the libraries from 1960-1982. Did your Dad open the resources of the UW  libraries to you when you were a child?
A. I spent many weekends in Suzzallo Library as I was growing up. I remember spending hours just combing through the stacks of musty books, including early books about computers. Books about science and aviation in particular were some of my favorites.
Did your family have season tickets to Husky games?
A. Yes, my father had season tickets for the Huskies for my whole childhood and I remember going to many Husky games with him. One of the reasons that I really wanted to have an open-air stadium for SeahawksStadium is that I have fond memories of wandering around Husky Stadium with my Dad, eating hot dogs and being able to watch the Huskies play outdoors in the elements—I think it’s one of the best parts about football!
Do you recall attending any open houses or science fairs at the UW that might have sparked your interest in computers?
I went to science fairs many times and had a lot of fun. More than anything it enhanced my love of science— and I carry that excitement with me today. I am particularly interested in how the brain works, and what we might be able to learn by looking at the role of the human genome in the function and anatomy of the brain. 

On His Eclectic Interests

“Allen says his business success is partly a result of his wide range of interests, which he thinks allows him to see connections between disparate areas that others may miss. His credits his parents, who gave him an open-minded start, dragging  Paul and his sister Jody to galleries, the opera, science museums, dance concerts and aviation exhibits. “Even as a kid, every year I was interested in something different,” Allen says, “whether it was chemistry or cards or physics or electronics or space travel or music.”    (Over the Horizon with Paul Allen: Another Microsoft Billionaire Speaks. Fortune: 7/11/1994 by David Kirkpatrick.)


From The Discover Interview with Paul Allen (by Evan Ratliff )
What do you think are the chances of SETI’s succeeding—in other words, of finding intelligent life beyond our world?
“The scientists are optimistic because they think that if they have better instruments that look deeper or on more frequencies, there should be civilizations out there broadcasting. I think everybody would admit it’s a long shot, but if that long shot comes in… wow.”
If they do get the signal, will you be the first person they call?
“Actually, first they call the White House. At one point they told me I was third or fourth on the list. So I guess that’s one of the benefits of funding the project. But the phone hasn’t rung yet.”
What would that kind of discovery mean to you?
“That would be such a life-changing thing, for us all to know that there are other beings out there who we could potentially communicate with, or maybe we are listening to a signal that they transmitted hundreds of millennia ago. And then we’d say, “Well, what was in the message? Can we decode the message, and can we communicate back? What are they really like? Are they oxygen-breathing bipeds, or are they a gas cloud on some gas-giant planet?”

On Music   Gene Stout Seattle P-I
June 22, 2000   The Visionary: Jimi Hendrix set off a spark in Paul Allen’s Imagination  (On Jimi Hendrix, music and the Experience Music Project Music Museum):
I think Jimi expressed in some of his interviews, and in his songs, the idea that music serves as a magic carpet that can take you to different places,” Allen says. “There’s a churchlike feeling there, and great music makes the spirit soar.”  …..

“………..”It was really a challenge to come up with things that were hands-on, yet robust enough to stand up to thousands of people using them and still allow a level of instruction for someone who hasn’t had much experience playing an instrument,” Allen says. 
“We just want to get them excited about music and think, ‘Hey, here’s a door I can go through.’ There’s a lot of fun and excitement in self-expression.” 


 On Football:

“Hail From the Chief” by Brian Davis from the Seahawks’ website:
“My experience with football goes back to watching Husky games with my father when I was under the age of 10—outdoors, eating a hot dog and cracking open some peanuts and seeing a game played out in the elements. That’s real football to me, so that was my dream and I think we’re delivering on that.”

On Science Fiction and  the Science Fiction Museum
  “The Microsoft billionaire, whose personal collection inspired the idea for a museum, hopes the facility attracts droves of sci-fi fans from around the galaxy.
“I was exposed to science fiction at an early age,” Allen says. “I think… it’s actually about science and where science is going to take humanity and culture in the future.”

On The Allen Institute for Brain Science

From “Piece of Mind” The Economist 
   “The scientists used state-of-the-art technology to dissect a mouse brain, photographed it sliver section by section, then reassembled it in a computer database that would allow easy access. But it was the speed at which the project was accomplished and what they did with it afterwards that changed the game.
They released it to the public. Over the Internet. Free.
When we first put the mouse-brain atlas online free, it was met by the research world with suspicion. People wondered what the catch was. Scientific research has long been a solitary endeavour—one researcher, one microscope. Findings are protected so that discovery credit can be clearly defined and awarded. This is a successful model and will continue to be.
However, the Human Genome Project demonstrated a different path: multiple teams working collaboratively towards a common goal. I believe a real acceleration in progress and innovation comes from the open sharing of ideas and collaboration. We wanted the mouse atlas to be free and available for all to use as the basis for foundational research and discovery.
A new generation of implantable pacemakers for the brain will be widely used to treat everything from depression to addiction and Parkinson’s disease
If we thought it would be a hit right out of the gate, we were slightly wrong. It took a while for people to trust that it really was free to use. No one believed in a free lunch.
Now, things have changed. Today we have many scientists using the atlas for their research into Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorders, Down’s syndrome, Parkinson’s, fragile x mental retardation and epilepsy. The atlas is also giving scientists insight into alcoholism, obesity, sleep, hearing and memory.”

And from a recent Wired Article:

In March 2002, Paul Allen—co-founder of Microsoft and 41st-richest person in the world—brought together a dozen neuroscientists for a three-day meeting aboard his 300-foot yacht, Tatoosh, which was anchored in Nassau, Bahamas. At the time, Allen’s philanthropic work consisted of an eclectic (some say frivolous) set of endeavors. There was the Experience Music Project in Seattle, a rock-and-roll museum designed by Frank Gehry; the Allen Telescope Array, 350 radio telescopes dedicated to deep-space observation and the search for extraterrestrial life; and SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded plane developed to put a human in space. But Allen was eager to start something new: a project involving neuroscience. He was excited by the sheer uncharted mystery of the mind—one of the last, great scientific frontiers—hoping a single large-scale endeavor could transform the field.
“I first got interested in the brain through computers,” Allen says. “There’s a long history of artificial intelligence programs that try to mimic what the brain is doing, but they’ve all fallen short. Here’s this incredible computer, a really astonishing piece of engineering, and we have no idea how it works.”
Over several days, Allen asked the neuroscientists to imagine a way to move their field forward dramatically. “I wanted them to think big,” he says. “Like the Human Genome Project, only for the brain.” (Jonah Lehrer 3/23/09)

and from The Discover Interview: Paul Allen by Evan Ratliff
Your interest in the workings of the brain seems like a logical step for someone who started out writing software.
“Yeah, if you are involved in computers, at some point you end up being fascinated by the idea of the human brain. The human brain works in a completely different fashion from a computer and does some things so much better than a computer, and this may remain true for the next 100, 200 years. How can that be? So I brought a bunch of neuroscientists together and asked, “What can I do that would be interesting and different that would potentially help the field of neuroscience move forward?” The answer was a genetic database of the mouse brain.”

On Space Travel:


Paul G. Allen
Remarks on Winning ‘The Robert J. Collier Trophy’
National Air and Space Museum
Washington, DC
April 19, 2005
from website

  “I feel I’ve been lucky to be part of three great waves of change—the personal computer, the Internet, and now private space travel.  All were extraordinary, but for sheer adrenaline, nothing will ever top that day last June when we first sent Mike Melvill to the edge of space in SpaceShipOne. 
I was always interested in flight and growing up in Seattle in the 1950s and ’60s was a great place to explore those interests. We had the World’s Fair, a strong local aeronautics industry, and I loved going to the library with my mother where I found books like Robert Heinlein’s “Rocketship Galileo,” or Willy Ley’s “Rockets, Missiles and Space Travel.” 
Science fiction was great back then, but it was amazing how much trouble it had keeping up with the reality of actual space travel. Like millions of American kids, I followed the Mercury suborbital flights, then Gemini, and then the Apollo lunar missions. I remember how exciting it was to watch those events on our grainy black and white TV set. Like many kids back then, I built scores of airplane and rocket models, and naturally, I had a plastic Air Force helmet with a flip-down visor. I even had hopes to become an astronaut one day. But after my 5th grade teacher realized I was sitting in the front row of class and squinting—it became apparent that I was nearsighted and I realized that becoming an astronaut was not in the cards for me. 
I have no doubt that these formative early experiences with space exploration helped fuel my desire to build and program computers. That same spirit of invention was always in the air in the early days of Microsoft. With SpaceShipOne, the work we did with Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled reminded me in many ways of the work Bill Gates and I were doing when we were just starting out. There aren’t that many times in your life you get to work on a project that is challenging, groundbreaking, and just plain fun.”

Recently on space travel, while watching friend Charles Simonyi blast off into space for a trip to the International Space Station:

“It’s fantastic to see a launch, but when it’s one of your friends it’s just something so special,”  Allen told Associated Press.   Allen said he would not be interested into getting into orbit using Russian technology, but is hoping to using his own spacecraft. He is a major investor in SpaceShipOne, the first commercial space operation.,+Science+and+Technology+Figures/Paul+Allen/0dnL0857t8gym/4 )
 On SpaceShipOne:

” As an engineer, I’ve learned to avoid words like “awesome” or “amazing” that don’t describe things specifically; but I can’t think of any other way to describe Burt’s team and what they have achieved. With only 20-odd people, working out of a simple hangar in the Mojave Desert, they reinvented, for all time, the way we view space exploration—that we can accomplish it in new and cost-effective ways as private enterprise, and that soon it will be a possibility for a great many of us.

I’d also like to say a word about courage. Never in my career have I put my own life on the line to advance knowledge. Our pilots did just that. I can’t say enough to convey my thanks to Mike Melvill, Brian Binnie and their families for their commitment to SpaceShipOne. Without them, none of us would be here today. The early aircraft pioneer Otto Lilienthal once said, “To invent an airplane is nothing. To build one is something. To fly is everything.”…………………..
…………..But I hope SpaceShipOne does more than just bring people to the edge of space. I hope it helps to rekindle a passion for aviation, rocketry and exploration among kids. And I hope it motivates educators to lay the important foundation of making science and math really engaging to a new generation of students. ” (Collier speech as posted on
On the Biggest Thrill: 

 “I feel I’ve been lucky to be part of three great waves of change—the personal computer, the Internet, and now private space travel. All were extraordinary, but for sheer adrenaline, nothing will ever top that day last June when we first sent Mike Melvill to the edge of space in SpaceShipOne.” (Collier)
On what he wants to be his legacy:
 “You just try to create things or look for opportunities to do things for the world at large that are going to make the world a better place.”

On The Future:

 “I was always thinking about the future as a kid,” he says. “When you’re
a kid, you think anything is possible. You don’t know about constraints.”

  Living: Sunday, June 14, 1998  A Wealth Of Interests — The Big-Idea Billionaire — Paul Allen Is Into
Sports, Technology, Music, Real Estate, Movies – And He’s Not Done Yet”  by Richard Seven
  (He still does think anything is possible, or at least he seems to….)
 “From technology to science to music to art, I’m inspired by those who’ve blurred the boundaries, who’ve looked at the possibilities, and said, “What if…? 
 In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way. Challenges inspire me, whether it’s pushing further into space than any private citizen ever has, as with SpaceShipOne or into the inner reaches of the human mind, as with the Allen Brain Atlas initiative. The varied possibilities of the universe have dazzled me since I was a child, and they continue to drive my work, my investments, and my philanthropy.”
 I hope you believe, as I do, in the inexhaustible ability of human beings to find answers to problems, to create works of beauty and originality, and to craft vital new ideas inspired by those who’ve gone before. The possible is constantly being redefined, and I care deeply about helping humanity move forward. “
(From Paul Allen’s website
 And as he said a couple of years ago, in Paul Allen’s own words…..

  “I’m not near the end of the story.”  (Microsoft Co-founder’s Dreams Funded into Reality  by Allison Linn   1/17/05)
I can’t wait to hear more…..looking forward to hearing the rest of the story in your memoirs, Paul!!!!…. 🙂


*From Jason Quick of the Oregonian: (

“A scene that shows how fired up owner Paul Allen is: As the media was waiting to get inside the postgamelocker room, Allen emerged from his private suite. As he walked through the gauntlet of reporters he looked at me and smiled. “Are you ready? Ready for the playoffs?” And with that, he extended a fist for a fist-bump. I think it’s safe to say Paul is ready for the playoffs. And I think it’s safe to say Paul is glad he didn’t sell the team a couple of years ago. I still contend he is one of the best owners in sports.”



To: William Gates

Chairman at Microsoft

Co-Chair at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Dear Mr. Gates,

Just wanted to drop you a note to let you know that I haven’t yet received my invitation to your LinkedIn Network.  No biggie—-I know you’ve been busy lately—but it’s just that I’m sure we know a lot of the same people…..

Well, o.k., maybe I know OF a lot of the same people whom you know, but same difference, right? 🙂

Anyway, in the meantime, I thought I’d take a crack at the excellent question that you posted on your LinkedIn site:

“How can we do more to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and technology?”*4ITS

I thought I’d start out by answering your question with a question:

What  were the things that inspired you and your friend Paul Allen when you were young? And just as importantly, what factors helped you both to become successful in those fields later in life?

You obviously know the answers better than I do, but I can take an educated guess based on your life, and turn it into advice for this new generation of young people:

1) Give them a vision:

Do you remember the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair?

I’d bet a dollar that going to that Fair was a profoundly inspiring experience for you (and for Paul Allen too) when you were children living in the city of Seattle. Remember The World of Science and The World of Tomorrow?  You could walk right into those exhibits and experience the possibilities the future had to offer in a powerful, palpable way. You could stand next to a rocket designed by NASA or ride in a “Spacearium”–a virtual space ship and see the “stars.” You could witness “Space Age Communications” at Bell Telephone’s pavilion, or get a glimpse of how future computers could connect libraries together and make information accessible to everyone.

From p. 20 of the Seattle World’s Fair 1962 official program:

“The experience is vivid. Shafts of color have illuminated another life—an easy, gracious, stimulating future beyond tomorrow’s tomorrow. Time itself has been compressed so that you could stand on the threshold of Century 21.”*1

The World’s Fair offered a profoundly real vision of what the future could be—it’s opportunities and responsibilities—a vision designed to inspire kids to dream big and do great things. And you and Paul Allen and a number of Visionaries took that dream and ran with it, building the real “World of Tomorrow.”

2) Give them access to cutting tools and information.

Remember the Lakeside computer room–the teletype machine that connected to a computer at CCC? Wasn’t it remarkable for kids who were barely into their teens—12 and 14 year olds—to have access to something that was so cutting edge for its time? I wonder how many adults grasped the magnitude of what was being done in that little room; what you were learning and how futuristic it all was? Wasn’t it because you had free reign with that equipment—that you could play with it and explore what you could do with it—at least a part of the reason that you could envision its future potential? Wasn’t it a part of the reason why a few years later you could call up Ed Roberts at a time when few people even owned an Altair, let alone found a use for one, and confidently tell him you could write a language for his pc?

3. Give them exposure to cutting edge mentors:

I know that you had a number of really remarkable teachers at Lakeside and and had several other mentors back in those days, but I’ll mention just one of them as an example. Do you remember Steve Russell, the guy who wrote the first videogame, Spacewar?  He and Dick Gruen had just come to C-Cubed from Stanford’s SAIL  (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab) program, which was involved with a number of research projects including, of course,  artificial intelligence.*2

That was a pretty cutting edge concept for its time. And although I heard that those guys never spoon-fed you any information (Paul Andrews called them “Zen Masters” because in response to your questions they would hand you and Paul Allen another manual so you could figure it out for yourselves 🙂 ),* 3  I imagine that working side by side with people who understood an area that most people had no clue even existed—guys who were dabbling on the cutting edge of technology—had an influence on you and Paul Allen, didn’t it?


So how do you give large numbers of young people access to creative tools and mentors?

Via the Internet, of course!

I have it on good authority that if you or Paul Allen or Steve Ballmer or Bono (or pretty much anyone from the X-Box team 🙂 ) were to offer a few insights via Youtube or live webcast etc., young people would be there in a heartbeat—watching and listening, eagerly absorbing what you have to say. 

The communication options out there today via the Internet offer a myriad of mentoring opportunities and an easy way to reach out to young people and impart new ideas, provide virtual communities, make contacts or share information.

And as far as creative tools go, maybe on a widespread level you could impart basic information—do a video on how to write a simple program, for example. On a more individualized level, one idea might be to pose a problem and then offer resources to the kids who present the best ideas and want to work on solutions to solve it—sort of an X-Prize-like contest where acceptance into the contest is competitive, but once accepted there are sponsors who can help the entrants to bring those ideas to fruition.

Then of course there are the science clubs, bowls, fairs and other kinds of contests already in place that you could support—not even necessarily financially, but through finding ways to keep everyone connected and facilitating connections to mentors in the various scientific fields.

4) Reward Goodness:

“Of course, not all challenges spring from technology. Many of the toughest problems we face today; hunger, the environment, population growth and violence desperately need people who want to attack these problems and make a difference in the lives of others.”*4

That quote was from Paul Allen in a speech he made to the WSU graduating class of 1999. And you have echoed the same sentiment—that we need people who can address the urgent problems that our world is facing today such as poverty, disease, food and energy shortages and environmental issues.*5

See… Bill Gates’ Speech at the World Economic Forum on Creative Capitalism

As you said, the world of today is better than in years past. The leaders of today include a number of tech wizards and visionaries whose creative ideas and efforts have made the world a better place. And as you know, the youth of today are our world’s greatest resource and its best hope for the future.  Nurture those young people who share a vision of a better world and who come up with new ideas that address some of its challenges.

Inspire everyone, but focus your resources and mentoring efforts on them. If your vision of creative capitalism is truly to become a widespread business ethic, it is the youth of today who will embrace it and the next generation who will bring it to fruition. Seek out the kind of young people who share your vision, whom you want to be tomorrow’s leaders, and help them to get there through scholarships, internships, small business loans, other financial rewards, and of course, recognition.

5) Above all, don’t underestimate them just because they’re young.

As you know from experience, young people can accomplish a great deal!

Another Lakeside story…..

Do you remember Frank Peep from C-Cubed and ISI in your Lakeside days?* 6  A few years ago I asked him if he was surprised that kids as young as you and Paul Allen were could have accomplished so much. His response? A definite “No.” On the contrary, he was not at all surprised.

“Kids are fearless,” he said.

When the adults looked at those computers, they saw some really expensive equipment. When you kids looked at them, you saw a playground—a game, a challenge.  You wanted to play around with the system, test it out, explore its capabilities—which was exactly what you were supposed to do—you were hired to find the bugs in the system so those problems could be fixed. 

You guys weren’t afraid of anything, so you took risks and crossed boundaries and did things that the higher-ups—the adults—said could never be done. It was because of your youth, not just in spite of it, that you were able to accomplish so much.

Kids are too young to be afraid, too naive to know that something is impossible and too inexperienced to believe that the way it’s always been done is the only way to do it.

As you said, “Young people aren’t as constrained by traditional ways of thinking. They haven’t yet completely absorbed the “right” way to do things, so they are free to pursue ideas that seem impossible to those of us with more experience.” ,
With the Right Skills, Young People will Create More Innovations

So challenge them, give them a few creative tools and see what they come up with. You never know what could happen…..

So there you go…..answer #4 gazillion to your Linked In question—hope it helps!

…..And about that Linked In invite—no hurry or anything.  I’ll just be sitting here, waiting by my computer……. :-)*

*….actually, my computer will be sitting here in my pocket, waiting by me. I just bought a Flipstart—Yeah!! 🙂 But that’s another story for another time….. 🙂



1 Seattle World’s Fair 1962 Official Souvenir Program, 1961 ACME Publications

2. “Gates: How Microsoft’s Mogul Reinvented An Industry—and Made Himself the Richest Man in America.” by Paul Andrews and Stephen Manes. 1994;   p. 32–

3) “Gates” Ibid. at p. 30

4) Paul Allen’s WSU Speech to 1999 graduating class upon receiving the Regent’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

The WSU site used to have an audio of the entire speech, which was originally aired via satellite uplink from the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon. (Paul Allen’s Trail Blazers were in the NBA Finals at the time.)

Also—I heard that Paul Allen just attended the TED conference:



so these very issues have been on his mind too lately. He has also tried to inspire young people in a number of ways in the past; for example, check out these links:


6) “Gates” Ibid. p. 40; Interview with Frank Peep, winter of 2004.