The World Inside the Computer
Fred D'lgnazio, Contributing Editor
Computers Of The Future
In the November 1987 issue of COMPUTE!, I challenged readers to imagine what computers would be like in the future. Many readers wrote me, and I'd like to share some of their images with you.
Wired To The Brain
The most popular image was of computers directly wired to the human brain. Georg Zimmer of Watertown, Wisconsin, wrote that "the interface will look like a headband and will plug into your computer." He says the computer won't need a monitor since its sounds and images can be piped directly into the brain. It won't need a keyboard since you'll just need to think of something, and it will go directly into the computer.
Electronic entertainment will be much more realistic. In an adventure game, for example, Zimmer says, "It would be like you were actually crawling across a smoky battlefield. You could smell the smoke, feel the pain, hear the explosions, and taste your rations (yecch!)." Georg goes on to predict that "this device means the end of TV. Why watch Magnum P.I. when you can be Magnum P.I.?"
A New Birthright
C.E. Deckard predicted that "direct neural hookups will allow the computer to process visual and aural information for blind and deaf people. It's only a short step from that to ‘a computer in every head’ as the birthright of every true American."
Deckard's line of reasoning produced some interesting predictions. He forecasted that teachers will become a thing of the past since education in the future will consist of periodic "curriculum downloads" from a school computer to students' neural and home computers; and since the greatest teachers known to man will be fabricated as expert systems on silicon chips and available to everyone via broadcast or as a "whim purchase" at the local 7-11.
The publishing industry, too, according to Deckard, is in a precarious position. "CD-ROM, CD-I, and WORM are clanging the death knell for the publishing business as we know it," he wrote. "Who can afford to keep (as I do) yards and yards of shelf space for printed books, when the entire contents of my library could be handled on a very small number of optical disks and include search algorithms that are a bunch better than my weary gourd?" As traditional publishers struggle or disappear, a new "clandestine cottage industry" will emerge which will use hi-res scanners to translate printed books and magazines into computer format.
Beneath The Skin
According to reader Wally Frisbie, computers in the future will invade the cosmetics industry: "They'll clear up your skin. And that's just the beginning." Wally foresaw a computer-brain interface in the form of microchips "implanted just beneath the skin in the head."
He predicted that home computers in the future will monitor the electrical signals emitted from a person's body cells and be capable of curing any illness while a person slept by altering the electrical signals and returning them to a normal, healthy pattern.
The Sensual Computer
Lucy Valka, of Haslett, Michigan, imagined a writer and an artist's computer of the future. According to her, "Since the computer can translate and process information so well, let's give it eyes, ears, and speech. For eyes, the computer needs two color cameras. They need to have auto focus, and low lux, maybe even infrared and heat sensitivity.
"For musical applications, we should be able to record in quadraphonic sound from an orchestra or marching band." Lucy called for pocket-size computers which writers could use to record their ideas while they were walking down the street. The little computers would upload their information into the writer's main computer which Valka said would have access to all the libraries in the world and which could "multitask when a writer has a leap of imagination."
Almost everyone mentioned that computers in the future should have artificial intelligence (AI), but no one agreed on what that should be. James Whitmore, called for RI (Real Intelligence) instead of AI.
Whitmore even came up with an entire system which he called DORIS, based on VOS (Voice Operating System). DORIS would get her input not from keyboards but from an amazing array of scanners—including sonic scanners, motion scanners, video scanners, impulse scanners, analytic scanners, and energy scanners. DORIS would not use a monitor. Instead she would use a variable beam generator to produce a "virtual screen" made of colorful 3-D holograms.
A New Attitude
Ramona Boger, an accountant in Spokane, Washington, didn't ask for her future computer to be intelligent, just forgiving. She wanted her computer to keep letting her make mistakes without complaining or mocking her. "Ten years from now," she writes, "I hope my computer will not change its attitude toward me, and will never tire of me. The programs, the speed, the versatility is bound to be exciting and productive, but the machine will still be my best friend."