Saturday, April 11, 2020

No One Needs a Computer in Their Home

“No one needs a computer in their home.” -- Ken Olsen, 1977.
What is really funny about that is the way Snopes debunked it back in 2004.  
Quote: “What Olsen was addressing in 1977 was the concept of powerful central computers that controlled every aspect of home life: turning lights on and off, regulating temperature, choosing entertainments, monitoring food supplies and preparing meals, etc. The subject of his remark was not the personal use computer that is now so much a part of the American home, but the environment-regulating behemoth of science fiction. Digital historian Edgar H. Schein described it thusly:‘What Olsen [was focusing on was] that in the 1950s and 1960s there existed the notion that the computer not only could but would control all aspects of our lives. Images of the fully computerized home that automatically turned lights on and off and that prepared meals and controlled daily diets were popular. And the fear that computers might, as in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, even try to take charge altogether was widely experienced.’ ”  --
 On the eve of the Hall Process, Napoleon III served his most important state guests on aluminum dinnerware while dignitaries of lesser status ate from gold or silver. Our best hobby telescopes today in the $10,000 range would have been the envy of an observatory. Our dobsonian "light buckets" ten to 16 inches costing between $500 and $1000 would have been unthinkable to amateurs whose 3-inch refractors would be considered toys ($50 to $100) today. 

Your kitchen has appliances that would have been found only in laboratories of 1950, among them the variable high speed blender, microwave, and coffee filters.

If no one needs a computer in their home, do they need one in their pocket, to stream video chats, play music and movies, bring the news, and (functions I actually use) be a map accurate to ten feet, a directional compass, and a carpenter's level? 

Pundits of science tell us that the universe is beyond our imagination. I find it more compelling that our own civilization challenges our easy assumptions about what is possible--and what is helpful, useful, and ultimately necessary in common daily life.


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