Monday, April 9, 2007

Computers the size of a room (1970)

While this image of the 1954 "computer of the future" is a hoax that still manages to pop up whenever the topic turns to paleo-futurism, I recently came across a hilarious quote from the 1970 book The End of the Twentieth Century? along much the same line of thinking.

This excerpt, from page 71, illustrates the lack of imagination we often have when it comes to technology and thinking exponentially:

"Computers will benefit even more than telephones from the development of integrated circuits in ever smaller 'chips', and very small computers may emerge. Most computers will probably still occupy a large room, however, because of the space needed for the ancillary software - the tapes and cards to be fed in, the operating staff, and the huge piles of paper for printing out the results. But future computers, though no smaller, will be capable of doing far more than their predecessors.


viznut said...

I laughed at this prediction, but then I realized that it was actually quite accurate in what comes to desktop PCs.

Compare the IBM PCs of the early 1980s to the desktop PCs 25 years later. They are much more capable and powerful, yes, but the simultaneous bloat in software has kept the status quo: they still take about the same time to boot, the software is often about as slow to start, the power consumption is actually higher, and, what the heck, the x86 architecture is still going strong.

Anonymous said...

they say that the "room sized computer" will include in it 'the operating staff' so really it's not so far wrong.

Sunfell said...

My computers do take up the space of a room... my old ones, that is. I really need to recycle them.

But it tickles me to death that I am carrying about 8GB of data storage space around in my handbag...

And I make my living being part of the 'operating staff' that keeps the things running.

Anonymous said...

Coincidentally, I see three computers within ten feet of where I now sit:

A twelve year old rack server system that measures 2 ft wide x 3 ft deep x 4 ft high. The small desk next to it occupies about the same space. Likewise the chair.

A one year old desktop with modem, router, printer, external hard drive, keyboard and monitor - all on a PC desk measuring 4 ft wide x 3 ft deep x 6 ft high. Add the chair and you get the picture.

A laptop which - when combined with the user, his CD's, mem sticks and paperwork - occupies a table measuring 4 ft wide x 3 ft deep x 3 ft high... plus the chair space.

And of course there's modern storage space for the instruction manuals, user guides, original CD software library storage, and obsolete two year old peripherals, memory media, equipment and supplies.

In short, the picture gets murky unless you restrict comparisons to - say - the IBM 370/158 (1970's) to the HP 3000 (1980's).

Planned space-savings obsolescence.