Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Kevin Williamson Is Wrong: Foreseeing the Future

I'm nitpicking here. He writes at the National Review:
"No one in 1985 knew, or really could have known, what computers would be like ten years down the road, or twenty."
(It's in the context of mocking a NYTimes columnist in 1985 who wrote that laptops were a bad idea, and moving from that  to the idea we can't foresee the future so the market beats government.)

Now I remember old laptops. We had a Zenith laptop at work which we took to a training session.  Actually, it wasn't a computer to put on your lap--it was a portable computer, a luggable.   I also remember something else, something called an electronic calculator.  When I worked at my summer job in the summer of 1959 and later, I used an old handcrank manual adding machine. By the end of the 60's electronic calculators had arrived on the scene, and by the end of the 70's we had programmable calculators.  Innovators in county ASCS offices had started to buy the calculators and program them to compute program payments and loan amounts.  I remember a GAO report urging the agency to establish centralized control over them.

Anyway, no more memories.  My point is that by 1985 we had seen the effects of Moore's law; the capabilities of calculators had exploded and their prices had imploded.  We also had seen the progression from mainframes to minis to micro/PCs.  So anyone with any sense of the history of the past 20 years would have known that computers were going to get smaller and more capable.

And someone, like Al Gore, was on the verge of inventing the Internet, or at least see that an obscure military/academic tool needed to be opened to the public.

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