In 1977, Ken Olsen, founder and CEO of DEC, made an oft-misapplied statement, “there is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”. A favourite of introductory college computing modules – supposedly highlighting the difficulty in keeping pace with rapid change in computing technology, it appears foolish at a time when personal computers were already under development – including in his own laboratories. The quote is out of context, of course, and applies to Olsen’s scepticism regarding fully-automated assistive home technology systems (climate control, security, cooking food, etc.). However, as precisely these technologies gain traction, there may be little doubt that, if he stands unfairly accused of being wrong in one respect, time will inevitably prove him so in another.
So, in short:
- Yes, he did say that
- No, that wasn’t quite what he meant
- He wasn’t (obviously) wrong at the time
- He is now/will be soon
Now available as eBook and paperback
What makes something sentient? What does it take for an entity to be aware of its own existence and to want to interact with the world of its own accord? Is it a gift from God or hard science? Is it something fundamentally human or animal in nature or is it a simple technological principle based on brain size? There are many models, of course. But, if consciousness is simply a natural product of neural complexity then eventually, in theory, we might build something – a computer or a machine – that was actually big enough to wake up!
Oh, wait …!
The widespread ramblings, which have appeared on this blog over the years, now make a partial contribution to a novel. (See http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/vicgrout)
Vic Grout’s Conscious is set a year or three into the future. The ‘Internet of Everything’ is making the world a more connected place than ever before. People’s lives are becoming increasingly automated. But something odd is happening … ‘Things’ are beginning to misbehave and no-one can work out why. What starts as an amusing inconvenience quickly becomes very serious indeed!
A ragged bunch of academics, scientists and philosophers are on the case – and may know the answer. But now they have to convince people that their crazy explanation is true. And that’s only the start. Against a backdrop of a world suddenly beginning to fall apart, they’re in a race against time to get someone to do anything about it. And not everyone is on their side!
What’s your favourite terrible technological prediction? There are plenty to choose from, that’s for sure. The following is just a brief list of the most infamous computing-based futurology howlers (oldest to newest):
- “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”, Thomas Watson: IBM chairman (1943) (* or was it someone else?)
- “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons”, Popular Mechanics (1949)
- “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won’t last out the year”, Prentice Hall: Business Books Editor (1957)
- “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home”, Ken Olsen: DEC founder (1977)
- “640K ought to be enough for anybody”, Bill Gates (1981) (* or did he really?)
- “We will never make a 32-bit operating system”, Bill Gates (1989)
- “Spam will be a thing of the past in two years’ time”, Bill Gates (2004)
- “Next Christmas the iPod will be dead, finished, gone, kaput”, Alan Sugar (2005)