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Entries in computers (50)

Wednesday
Aug242011

The Push-Button School of Tomorrow (1958)

The May 5, 1958 edition of Arthur Radebaugh's Sunday comic, Closer Than We Think, showed off the high-tech school of tomorrow. With hordes of baby boomers flooding into public schools in the 1950s, it makes sense that this strip would focus on different solutions for overcrowding with that technological optimism we identify as being uniquely post-war American.

The student desk of the future includes a small camera, presumably so that the teacher being projected on a large screen in the front of the class can keep tabs on the little rascals. One thing that fascinates me about computer consoles of the retrofuture is that the QWERTY keyboard is not yet an assumed input device. Each computing device seems tailored to meet the needs of the intended user, as with this learning machine of the futuristic year 1999 and this auto-tutor from the 1964 New York World's Fair. That being said, the Google of 1964 was quaintly analog with its typewriter attachment.

One of my favorite details from this panel is the kid in the white shirt who's waving to someone in a gryocopter just outside the window. Better pay attention, lil' Johnny! TEACHER IS WATCHING!

Tomorrow's schools will be more crowded; teachers will be correspondingly fewer. Plans for a push-button school have already been proposed by Dr. Simon Ramo, science faculty member at California Institute of Technology. Teaching would be by means of sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines. Pupils would record attendance and answer questions by pushing buttons. Special machiens would be "geared" for each individual student so he could advance as rapidly as his abilities warranted. Progress records, also kept by machine, would be periodically reviewed by skilled teachers, and personal help would be available when necessary.

Many thanks, as always, to Tom Z. for the color scan of this strip.

Tuesday
Aug092011

Walter Cronkite Explores the Home of 2001

While visiting New York a few years ago I stopped in at the Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television and Radio). They have quite an extensive collection of TV programs that anyone can view, two at a time, for an admission fee. One of the shows I watched was an episode of the CBS show, The 21st Century hosted by Walter Cronkite. Titled "At Home, 2001" the episode aired on March 12, 1967 and is a wonderfully retrofuturistic artifact that shows off the technological advancements of a house in the future. The house featured in this episode will look familiar to those who've watched the 1967 Philco-Ford promotional film, 1999 A.D. 

According to Cronkite, the home of the year 2001 will feature inflatable furniture, push-button kitchens, computers for educating Junior at home, and enormous TV screens. The episode talks to a handful of experts, including Philip Johnson who -- as we know from this radio documentary from 1966 -- wasn't terribly optimisitc for the future of innovation. Cronkite himself lived to see the first decade of the 21st century. I wish I'd been able to interview him about some of the changes he'd seen.

An excerpt from the March 12, 1967 edition of the Pasadena Independent Star-News appears below.

The home of tomorrow is the subject of "At Home, 2001" on The 21st Century, in color Sunday at 6:00 PM on CBS.

CBS News Correspondent Walter Cronkite is the reporter.

The broadcast will explore the promise of modern technology, architecture and city planning, as well as new ways of doing things in the home. Robots may help with housework. The kitchen might resemble a laboratory where cooking might be done in seconds by high-energy sound waves. The man of the house could conduct much of his business at home by electronic devices. The children of the 21st Century might be educated at home by a computer.

Whether tomorrow's home will be a thing of beauty, a tasteless suburban tract or a high-rise beehive also will be examined. Whatever it is, it is estimated that some 60 million homes will be built before the year 2001.

Longtime readers of Paleofuture might recall that we looked at another episode of The 21st Century a few years ago. titled the "Mystery of Life" that asked some hard questions about science's role in reproduction. In the episode, James Bonner argues that eugenics is the only way to breed out the undesirable traits in humanity, while Harrison Brown asks how things like "undesirable" might be defined.

Monday
Jul112011

David Byrne's 1987 Predictions for the Computers of 2007

The January, 1987 issue of OMNI Magazine included a cover story titled, "14 Great Minds Predict the Future." OMNI asked influential people from a variety of fields what was in store for humanity in the year 2007, twenty years into the future. There were predictions about everything from peace in the Middle East to 3D televisions.

David Byrne, lead singer and songwriter of the Talking Heads, gazed into his crystal ball to write about pop art, the future of television, and why computers will never help the creative process. With the benefit of hindsight it's a little hard to believe that Byrne was so pessimistic about the potential for computers as a creative tool, especially when futuristic designs for computers were getting so many others excited. An excerpt from the OMNI piece appears below. 

David Byrne, Lead Singer, Talking Heads

I don't think computers will have any important effect on the arts in 2007. When it comes to the arts they're just big or small adding machines. And if they can't "think," that's all they'll ever be. They may help creative people with their bookkeeping, but they won't help in the creative process.

The video revolution, however, will have some real impact on the arts in the next 20 years. It already has. Because people's attention spans are getting shorter, more fiction and drama will be done by television, a perfect medium for them. But I don't think anything will be wiped out; books will always be there; everything will find its place.

Outlets for art, in the marketplace and on television, will multiply and spread. Even the three big TV networks will feature looser, more specialized programming to appeal to special-interest groups. The networks will be freed from the need to try to please everybody, which they do now and inevitably end up with a show so stupid nobody likes it. Obviously this multiplication of outlets will benefit the arts.

I don't think we'll see the participatory art that so many people predict. Some people will use new equipment to make art, but they will be the same people who would have been making art anyway. Still, I definitely think that the general public will be interested in art that was once considered avant-garde.

Thursday
Feb032011

Canada's Drugged Up Dystopia (1969)

Remember back in the year 2000 when you'd feed your brat kids their breakfast pellets, head to work under the city's weather controlled dome, your computer overlords only knew you by your nine digit identification number, and you'd end your day fantasizing about a life before computers?

The January 18, 1969 Montreal Gazette ran this most peculiar comic, chock full of hilarious expositional dialogue and dystopian delights. 

We follow the futuristic misadventures of George Daedalus, also known as Daeda 928 502 467, in the year 2000 AD. George lives in Oshtoham, Canada's second largest city -- which I'm guessing is a combination of the cities Oshawa, Toronto and Markham-- and works as a travel agent. George lives his life surrounded by technological wonders like robot servants, videophones, moving sidewalks and 3D hologram walls, but we come to find out that he's really just not that happy. The last panel shows George taking drugs and using a computer to escape his reality. Boy am I glad I don't live in that future!*

 

 

*Is there an emoticon for nervous laughter?

Previously on Paleofuture:

 

Monday
Jan242011

Shopping in the Future (1981)

I'm often shocked at how accurate some 20th century predictions of online shopping were. However, these retail prognosticators frequently miss the mark by assuming that individual goods would need to be photographed or videotaped live for consumers. 

While I can kind of understand how this might make sense with fresh fruit, today we have sites like Amazon and Peapod where a generic photo of the product for sale is displayed. That being said, this prediction of online shopping from the 1981 book World of Tomorrow: School, Work and Play by Neil Ardley was pretty darn close to what we have today.

A store of the future is more like a warehouse than a shop of today. The robots serve people who call up the store on their home computers. This robot is showing a bunch of bananas to a video camera, which transmits a picture of the fruit to a customer. It places the purchases in a box which is then delivered to the customer's home.

Shopping is an activity that most of us have to do every day. While it's sometimes exciting -- if you want some new clothes or a new gadget, for example -- it's often tiresome. You have to trudge around a store, wait in line to pay for your purchases, and then perhaps carry a heavy load home only to find you've forgotten something.

Shopping should be much easier and more enjoyable in the future. Computers and robots will come to your aid and enable you to shop at the very best stores. You won't have to lift a finger, let alone a shopping basket. For shopping will be yet another service that the home videophone computer will be able to provide.

Instead of going out to the shops and stores in your town or city, you contact them through your videophone computer. You'll need to see what you're buying, even if you can't handle it, so the viewscreen of the videophone computer shows you the goods available. You then instruct the computer to order the goods you want and have them delivered to your house.

Your computer "talks" to the store's computer, which in turn orders robots in the store to collect the goods together and pass them to a delivery vehicle. Under the guidance of the computers, this brings them to your home.

In this way your home computer can make sure that your home is always supplied with all its essentials, for it automatically orders new supplies as soon as they are needed. It also instructs your bank to pay for the goods, so you do not need to part with any cash.

Using the computer for shopping is yet one more way in which the computer will make life easier in the future. It will save you time that you spend in a more useful or a more pleasant way. However, many people enjoy shopping, especially looking for unusual items. So, while the computer will do your everyday shopping, you may still go shopping yourself for something special. However, the computer will be able to help you greatly if you want to buy something really exciting -- a special present for a friend, for example. With your home computer, you can purchase virtually anything in the world, for it can contact stories anywhere -- on the other side of the globe if necessary.

 

Previously on Paleofuture:

 

Saturday
Feb132010

Enjoy Your Privacy; It'll Be Gone In A Few Years (1967)

The August 17, 1967 Salina Journal (Salina, KS) ran a headline that caught my eye: "Enjoy Your Privacy; It'll Be Gone In a Few Years."

Someone from the year 2010 might look at this headline and expect to read an article with rather prescient predictions of how a vast network of computers might allow for the sharing of personal data, causing "privacy" to virtually disappear. Remember that 1967 was the same year Philco-Ford depicted some pretty spot-on predictions about the future of personal computing in a film about the year 1999...

But after reading the article it's not entirely clear to me from where they expect this invasion of privacy to be coming. Is this a fear of camera surveillance brought about by technological progress? And if so, by whom? The government? Your neighbors?

The article is reprinted from the New York Times and quotes Harry Kalven, Jr., a professor of law at the University of Chicago:

[...] by the year 2000, "man's technical inventiveness may, in terms of privacy, have turned the whole community into the equivalent of an army barracks. It may be a final ironic commentary of how bad things have become by 2000 when someone will make a fortune merely by providing, on a monthly, weekly, daily, or even hourly basis a room of one's own."

You can read the entire article -- which also includes predictions about pocket telephones, home computers and artificial moons -- at Scribd.

Previously on Paleo-Future:

 

Monday
Jan252010

Project 2000 Video - Apple Computer (1988)

In 1988 Apple produced this video to accompany its very cool Project 2000 competition. The short video showcases different machines and features that Apple saw as just around the corner. Though Project 2000 was a student competition, this video doesn't show the winning team nor their Apple tablet of the future; rather we hear Steve Wozniak, Alvin TofflerAlan KayDiane Ravitch, and Ray Bradbury talk about their hopes for the computer devices of the future.
While I wince a little seeing the techno-reactionary and future-shocker Alvin Toffler talking about how great it would be to read books in any language -- isn't this the guy who wants the future to slow down?-- it's really cool to see Wozniak's enthusiasm for the personal computer revolution.
The implication of this much computing power at a very affordable cost is partly one of those because of the fact it is so radically different than anything we could have ever expected. Where the very hugest super-computers of my lifetime, early in my lifetime, are now equalled by inexpensive personal computers that you can buy everywhere and anyone can own. It's like you can't even say where this is going to go.
Thanks to Tim Carmondy for pointing me to this great video.
Previously on Paleo-Future: