“I’ve probably taken more drugs than everyone in this entire room can collectively carry.” And with that opening statement, one of the technology world’s more unique individuals was off and running in an hour-long session today to close the Creative Convergence Silicon Valley (C2SV) conference in San Jose, California. John McAfee doesn’t just march to his own drummer. He leads an entire parade that swings between utter brilliance and outright madness.
The founder of McAfee, one of the largest security and anti-virus companies in the world, was gamely interviewed onstage by Dan Holden of Holden Communications who prompted the controversial tech pioneer to talk openly about not only his notorious drug-ridden past, but his troubles in Belize, a country he will not be visiting again anytime soon. His appearance at C2SV today was the first professional event McAfee has attended since his return to the U.S. only a few weeks ago.
McAfee fled Belize for Guatemala last year to avoid questioning about the murder of a neighbor. “I felt my life was in danger and I’m convinced it was,” said McAfee.
Reminiscing about how he started the security company in 1987 McAfee told the audience about how his brother-in-law had given him a newspaper clipping that talked about the discovery of the first known computer virus. When he realized that the virus was caused by replicating code, McAfee wrote a program to prevent that and then began selling it.
A long-term stay at the company he founded was not in the cards. “I ran it for four years, which was three years too long,” said McAfee.
Although he reportedly became very wealthy from founding one of the world’s first anti-virus firms, McAfee was especially sensitive today when asked by Holden about his net worth. When queried about rumors that his net worth was in the $100 million range, McAfee curtly replied that he “had no clue” and that he routinely just made up answers when asked. He added, “Believe nothing that I say when it comes to my worth. It’s nobody’s business.”
Whether he can live comfortably on what he made from his original company or not, McAfee’s relationship with his former business has been prickly. He made a video and posted it on YouTube recently which pokes fun at his bizarre life (he is dressed in it like Hugh Hefner), but also demonstrates how to uninstall McAfee software. As if having the Belize army hunting for him wasn’t enough, now McAfee seems perfectly willing to lure an army of highly paid lawyers on his trail as well.
That McAfee chose this week to resurface in Silicon Valley has a lot to do with his latest technology venture which he more or less announced today. The details were a little sketchy. Called Future Tense, he described the new technology as a “localized dynamic network” that uses a unique identifier every few minutes which is designed to provide utmost privacy and prevent any intrusion. “There is no way to tell who is doing what, when or where,” said McAfee.
His new website for the company only provides a teaser and countdown clock for launch which he estimated to be six months from the first prototype. The new hardware and app (for iPhone, Android or PC) will be pretty affordable too. “It will be less than $100, I can guarantee that,” McAfee said today.
Asked the obvious question about whether such a product would be used for nefarious purposes, McAfee simply replied “of course,” generating laughter and applause from the audience. “It’s quite possible the federal government will not allow me to sell this product,” he admitted. But he said he would still find markets for it in other parts of the world.
McAfee now makes Portland, Oregon his new home. “Portland is great,” said the tech pioneer. “The city motto is ‘Keep Portland Weird’ and I’m doing my part.”
Among the hundreds of technology conferences held around the world this year, truer words were never spoken.