For the second night in a row, the third time in six weeks, our television went nuts – the image on the screen froze. And so began a new conversation, first with a computer with whom I exchanged phone information and account numbers. I purposed to remain calm, avoid coughing or extraneous sounds – or wrong answers; the computer has been known to hang-up on me.
Last night I talked to a young woman in the Philippines; tonight my technician was in India. I don’t know where the computer was from. They all spoke good English, especially the computer. As long as I remain patient, I speak good English, too.
The idea that I can speak to people a world away from me, first to the West, and then to the East – and that they can analyze the “cable” box in my living room renders me speechless.
I talked with a computer tonight! Didn’t Captain Kirk do that? I had a perfectly intelligible conversation with people half-way round the world. Lieutenant Uhura could not have arranged a better connection! The idea that a computer has the capacity to “read” what is wrong in an enclosed case thousands of miles away is what all those “Star Trek” computers did, high above the earth.
What was sci-fi in 1966 is real today.
I’ve been listening NPR’s coverage of Steve Jobs and his death from pancreatic cancer. (Link ) He was responsible for so many advances that we take for granted. He began his work in 1977 – barely thirty-four years ago. The conventional wisdom included the following:
"There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp.,1977
Let me hasten to add that in the mid-1980’s, I wondered why anyone would want to spend so much money on car phones.
Yesterday’s expensive toys and gimmicks have become today’s necessities. A radio and telephone astounded my grandmother; television, my parents. Computers, cell phones and the Internet were new technologies to me, which now are ordinary props in my life. Ten years ago, I was just getting used to my cell-phone; today I take pictures with my phone and send messages. One of my friends urged me to get the I-phone, while I am young enough to learn the technology.
She may be right. But talking to the Philippines and India while the TV reprograms itself is about all the excitement I can handle for awhile.
Things I am glad I did not [know enough to] say:
- "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons." -- Popular Mechanics, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949
- "But what ... is it good for?" -- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip