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Friday, March 21, 2008

The View from 1954


A friend sent me an email with this picture of an imagined 'home computer'. I was five years old when this was conceived. I had gotten a wind up robot for Christmas somewhere in that time period. It had flashing eyes and sparks came out its mouth when it walked. Could I imagine the future? Can anyone? My dad was a science teacher. I know he thought about the future and we were surrounded by symbolic allusions to the future. Sputnik wasn't that far away. The American and German expatriate scientists were imagining voyages to space. But this picture of the RAND Corp home computer running Fortran and being larger than the built-ins in the average kitchen tells us much about how difficult it is for our imaginations to get futurized. "Scientists admit that the computer will require not-yet-invented technology to work" is a great understatement. What's interesting as well is the observation that science is expected to solve these issues in fifty years. Could the gentleman in the picture decipher what a cell phone was or a laptop if one was handed to him? Perhaps. But connecting what made it possible would have been a true challenge. I know that I, looking forward, had trouble imagining the future. I wonder what the steering wheel was for?

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