Jump to content

Atari predicts... the future!

Posted by Nathan Strum, 16 April 2012 · 1,264 views

Video Game Ramblings
This is a pretty cool blog entry.

Alan Kay and Bob Stein were working for Atari back in '82, and were asked to come up with some concepts for an "Intelligent Encyclopedia". They hired recent-ex-Disney artist Glenn Keane to illustrate them, and what they came up with was, well, basically what we're doing with iPads, the internet, and all that sort of stuff now.

Did you notice Alan Kay's 4/15 comments, currently at the bottom of the page? They're even more interesting to me than the pictures:

People reading this should realize that there was nothing new to be thought up to make these scenarios (they were for Warner execs who were not sophisticated about computers despite having bought Atari).

The ideas were all drawn (pretty much without exception) from the visions and demonstrations of the ARPA-IPTO research community in the 1960s, ca 1968. Main sources were Licklider, Taylor, Doug Engelbart, Nicholas Negroponte, Ivan Sutherland, Seymour Papert, some of my ideas back then (such as the wireless tablet computer), and many others from our colleagues.

I'm not sure what Bob means by "missing that it was going to connect people to other people".

This was one of the main reasons for all the work we did at ARPA and at Xerox PARC on networking, including ARPAnet and Internet, and both wired and wireless.

This was the subject of a very good white paper from 1968 by the founder of IPTO and one of his successors (JCR Licklider and Bob Taylor) "The computer as a Communication Device" (the second paper in this pdf: http://memex.org/licklider.pdf).

It was one of the concerns of Bob Barton, the great computer designer when I was in grad school in the 60s.

It was the subject of a whole day discussion at the first ARPA grad student conference in 1968 as we were in the process of building the ARPAnet.

It was the main concern of Engelbart, who showed in "the mother of all demos" in 1968 many ways to do communication in many modes of time including real-time and face to face.

And many kinds of such communication was happening in the ARPA and PARC communities in the 70s.

The problem was the 1980s and what was lost by the gold-rush to commercialize subsets of these ideas (to an extent that in many cases was like the carpetbaggers).

It was certainly missed in the 80s by IBM and even Apple.

But not at Atari -- this was just an implicit part of the "ARPA Dream".

McLuhan warned us (using books and TV) indirectly about how strongly people were going to try to regain some sense of identity via an electronic global village. The hope by all of us from the 60s was that education -- and The Encyclopedia Britannica whom Bob and I tried to get to understand at length what was going to happen -- would help to create a sense of the real value here.

But this didn't happen, and we wound up with a pop culture.

We can see this so easily by looking at comments on these pictures on various blog sites. I could only find one person who was unlazy enough to see if there were other opinions about these ideas (and did they really come from 1982 or earlier).

That's a pop culture, mostly trying to admire itself in every shiny surface it can find, and leaving behind the equivalent of "I was here" graffiti.

Best wishes,


  • Report
Nice find!
  • Report
There's some really interesting stuff in the five-part series The Machine That Changed The World. It's a bit dated now (being 20 years old), but the history part of it is pretty fascinating, as are some of their predictions for the future (aka "now").
  • Report
Love those drawings. With the exception of a couple of those scenarios it's interesting that it was foreseen as a social enhancement. A way to make communicating with people better and not a way to completely cut off the real world. Where's the drawings of people texting and falling into fountains or becoming a meal for stray bears on the street?
  • Report