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The i-Technology Right Stuff

Searching for the Twenty Top Software People in the World


Daniel W. Hillis


Brief Description: VP of R&D at the Walt Disney Company; cofounder, Thinking Machines

Further Details:

Danny Hillis is an inventor, scientist, author, and engineer. He pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 40 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. Danny Hillis is also the designer of a 10,000-year mechanical clock.

As Vice President, Research and Development at Walt Disney Imagineering, and a Disney Fellow, he developed new technologies and business strategies for Disney's theme parks, television, motion pictures, Internet and consumer products businesses. He also designed new theme park rides, a full sized walking robot dinosaur and various micro mechanical devices.

He's now Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company creating a range of new products and services in software, entertainment, electronics, biotechnology and mechanical design.

Back in 1983, while he was finishing up his degree at MIT, Hillis co-founded Thinking Machines Corp. to produce and market the Connection Machine. The company's customers included American Express, Dow Jones, Schlumberger, Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Tokyo, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and NASA. He continued to lead Thinking Machines' technical team until 1995 when he left to start a small consulting company, DHSH. One of DHSH's clients was The Walt Disney Company, and it was in 1996 that Hillis joined Disney full time in the newly created role of Disney Fellow.

Thinking Machines Corp. was the leading innovator in massive parallel supercomputers and RAID disk arrays. In addition to conceiving and designing the company's major products, Hillis worked closely with his customers in applying parallel computers to problems in astrophysics, aircraft design, financial analysis, genetics, computer graphics, medical imaging, image understanding, neurobiology, materials science, cryptography and subatomic physics. At Thinking Machines, he built a technical team comprised of scientists and engineers that were widely acknowledged to have been among the best in the industry.

Willis is the author of a book, The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work (ScienceMasters Series), in which he explains the basic ideas that make computers work. He is also an adviser to the U.S. government, and serves on the Presidential Information Technology Advisory Committee.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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