Internet 64

Predictions revisited

The Internet anticipated in 1964

or “The World in a Box”

When the New Scientist’s 1964 series of predictions for “The World in 1984” was published by Penguin Books the following year, I added tables at the end. They summarized what seemed to me the main expectations of the scientists and scholars (about 100 of them) who contributed to the project. The first table concerned “Major Technological Revolutions” and I reproduce its contents below, reformatted to fit the page but otherwise unmodified in any way. The question marks denoted explicit disagreement or implicit controversy on important points.

The reader is invited to score the forecasts as hits, misses, or premature in relation to the 1984 target date. About the United Nations owning the ocean seabed, for example, or fuel-cell generators in the home, feel free to scoff as much as you like, because I have an ace in the hole.

It was no accident that item 1 in the table had the heading “Revolution in information”. Prompting me especially was what a visionary computer pioneer, Maurice Wilkes of Cambridge, wrote in “The World in 1984” (in 1964, remember) about the marriage of computing and telecommunications.

In 1967 the BBC let me script a TV programme called “The World in a Box”, which described what we now know as the Internet, available in the home. As was normal for science shows in those days, this was a live-on-air production without benefit of auto-cues. Wilkes and other experts took part, and we mocked up a console.

Sketch from a BBC production photo, 1967, for “The World in a Box”. Notice that the screen is displaying text.

Persisting with this story, my Technopolis (1969) devoted several pages to “a total information system” alias World Box. For example: “The work of commercial and professional organisations will be transformed. There may be no very clear distinction between authors, scholars, publishers, librarians, television producers or anyone else who can be called an information mediator – but it will be their task to save mankind from drowning in its own information.” Included also was a warning about the use of the system for pornography, and even a speculation that we might one day carry the World Box in our pockets.

Meanwhile, my quite strenuous efforts to engage the interest of the British government and its science advisers came to nothing – as New Scientist rediscovered long after I stopped editing the magazine.

“Britain could have led the world in developing the Internet and computer games if the government had listened to the advice of a former editor of New Scientist three decades ago,” Mick Hamer reported in 1999. He referred to “The World in 1984” and added, “Calder was subsequently commissioned by the government to forecast the future as part of a brainstorming exercise. His predictions, which were ignored, have just been released under the rule that keeps many British government papers secret for 30 years.”

Please be clear there’s no claim here about “inventing” the Internet. That was done by the US Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1983. And whilst I have quarrels with Al Gore on climate issues, let me clear him of the oft-repeated suggestion that he said he invented the Internet. The word he used in a TV interview in 1999 was “created”. Within the margins of error of politician-speak that was not unreasonable. Gore sponsored legislation in 1988 and 1992 that helped to transfer the Internet from military to civilian control and open it up to academic, commercial and private users, in the “total information system” that we know today.

Major Technical Revolutions

Summary table of 20-year forecasts in The World in 1984

1. Revolution in information:

vast increases in computing and telecommunications capacity, and wide use of electronic storage and retrieval of information.

Technical aspects

Computers a good deal faster and easier to “converse” with.

Computers linked in nation-wide and world-wide networks.

Messages by computer network (in digital code).

Big increase in communications using millimetre radio, laser beams or communications satellites.

Possibilities arising

Television-teIephones.

“Dialling” for news, books, etc.

World-wide weather and disaster warning services using satellites.

Effects on the individual

Ready access to information (a data store in the home?).

Close surveillance by government computers?

Use of television links instead of business travel.

Social aspects

“Abolition” of libraries, paperwork and typists.

Wide use of computers in every field of activity.

Increase in local broadcasting.

No more newspapers as we know them?

Global aspects

World-wide instantaneous reporting.

Language translation.

Big investment in communications (but increasing nationalism in these services?).

2. Revolutionary consequences of biology.

Technical aspects

Understanding of living systems, including the human brain.

Manipulation of genetic structure.

Development of “bio-engineering”.

Understanding of ageing process.

Possibilities arising

“Biochemical machines” for food production, energy transformation, chemical manufacture, and information storage.

Alteration of cell heredity.

New engineering controls modelled on biological systems.

Transplantation of organs and wide use of artificial limbs and organs.

Modification of the developing brain.

Conquest of viruses, heart disease, and cancer?

Effects on the individual

Longer life.

Better treatment of mental disease.

Inhibition of ageing or “medicated survival”?

Loss of individuality by surgical implantation?

Social aspects

Better understanding of human behaviour.

Need for moral criteria in biological manipulations.

Danger of a racket in transplantable organs.

Danger of “mind control”.

Global aspects

Understanding of complexity of living systems.

Opportunities for enlarging food production.

3. The beginning of the exploitation of the oceans.

Technical aspects

Fish-rearing and transplanting.

Fish concentrators.

Mid-water trawls.

Working on the seabed at 600 fathoms.

Obtaining minerals from sea-water and the sea-bed.

Possibilities arising

Use of “new” protein sources (squid, red fish, Antarctic krill).

Control of weather and climate by warming or cooling sea-water?

Effects on the individual

New way of life for some.

Better coastal resorts and sea ports.

Global aspects

UN ownership of ocean floor?

UN surveillance of climate-control experiments?

4. New forms of energy.

Technical aspects

Big increase in generating efficiency (including “MHD” methods).

Wide use of fuel cells as small power units and for energy storage.

Growth in nuclear (fission) power.

Demonstration of power generation by controlled fusion.

Possibilities arising

“Footloose” industries.

Large-scale desalting of water.

Effects on the individual

Fuel-cell generators in the home.

Fuel-cell batteries for cars.

Social aspects

Decentralization of power generation?

Quieter road transport.

Global aspects

Shift of populations to regions where water and conventional energy sources are scarce.

References

1965 The World in 1984: the Complete New Scientist Series (editor Nigel Calder) for Penguin etc. (2 volumes in the Penguin edition)

1967 “The World in a Box” — live show BBC-TV, 50 min., script by Nigel Calder

1969 Technopolis by Nigel Calder, for McGibbon & Kee, Shuster, etc.

1999 “This Week” by Mick Hamer, New Scientist, 23 January

1999 Al Gore interviewed by Wolf Blitzer, CNN, 9 March

Remark added 7 May: the notion of computer games, mentioned in the New Scientist 1999 report, came from Monty Finniston of  the International Research Development Company, Newcastle, UK, whose contribution to The World in 1984 was entitiled “Gadgets, Games, and Gambles”.

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27 Responses to Internet 64

  1. Richard111 says:

    Exploitation of the oceans has gone sadly wrong.
    Over trawling seabeds and dumping of “illegal” catches for example.

  2. Bernd Felsche says:

    An interesting article. Somebody quipped that if one makes enough predictions, one will eventually be correct. :-)

    Your article does bring to mind the limits of our ability to predict where technology will head, when there are so many directions that are possible. And of the ones that are possible, it’s not necessarily the best ones (technically) that will dominate in future.

    It’s not sufficient for a particular technology to be “right” or “best” to succeed; it must also be popular. At that point, predictive ability evaporates. “Marketing” can sell a giant leap backwards as a progressive stride; and that corrupts evolutionary progress.

    In terms of technology, it’s already a big gamble on the next step. Gambling on the one after that is folly.

    Sure, one should keep a peripheral view on the horizon to check where one is heading, but it’s more necessary to watch carefully where one is stepping. The ground is “Wegenerian”; with “plates” of collections of symbiotic and parasitic technologies and ideas drifting, colliding, splitting and tilting.

    It is necessary for us to keep moving towards the horizon which is a construct of our aspirations, ideals and ideas. Even if that horizon looks a little different with every step that we take.

    P.S. At least the world in a box was capable of making toast. That’s what the young-lady is removing from the slot, isn’t it? :-)

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jailhouserock, Colin McDermott, Joshua Llorach, Joshua Llorach, Joshua Llorach and others. Joshua Llorach said: @Avadiaigital see this http://calderup.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/internet-64/ [...]

  4. Roy says:

    That’s not the iPod dock?

  5. Del says:

    That’s not toast – that’s an in-home ATM.

    Just because we don’t use card readers to make ‘Net purchases doesn’t mean we couldn’t have. In fact, some early readers were made for the home; it’s just not something people wanted to pay for or really needed.

  6. Gareth Price says:

    Was “The World in a Box” ever recorded? Do you know if there are any surviving copies?

    • calderup says:

      No, Gareth. There was no video recording in those days. Programmes on film were saved, of course, but live material wasn’t recorded until about 1969, and then on huge and expensive Ampex tapes, used parsimoniously.
      Nigel

  7. chuck brownstein says:

    Some of the people who invented the future (beyond concept cartoons) did take pictures: Check out Doug Englebart at:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8734787622017763097#

    There may be some artifacts also from the demo of the Arpanet that Bob Kahn set up in Washington in 1973.

  8. Vik Walker says:

    anyone read The Shockwave Rider, by John Brunner, which I believe was published about that time?

  9. Spinner3 says:

    I’m amazed at how much they got correct.

    Technical aspects

    Computers a good deal faster and easier to
    “converse” with.
    Yep. (this was a no-brainer)

    Computers linked in nation-wide and world-wide
    networks.
    Yep. Internet.

    Messages by computer network (in digital code).
    Yep, if by ‘in digital code’ they meant ‘non paper’.

    Big increase in communications using millimetre
    radio, laser beams or communications satellites.
    Yep. (Fiber optics == laser beams)

    Possibilities arising

    Television-telephones.
    Yep. (that web-cam on your laptop?)

    “Dialling” for news, books, etc.
    Yep. (Downloading books, news over internet)

    World-wide weather and disaster warning services
    using satellites.
    Yep.

    Effects on the individual

    Ready access to information (a data store in the
    home?).
    Yep (That 300 Gig drive you have.)

    Close surveillance by government computers?
    Yep. NSA is listening to your overseas phone calls.

    Use of television links instead of business travel.
    Yep.

    Social aspects

    “Abolition” of libraries, paperwork and typists.
    Not quite. What’s a typist? Paperwork, -oh,you mean data entry.

    Wide use of computers in every field of activity.

    Increase in local broadcasting.
    Yep. Blogs, You Tube, anyone?

    No more newspapers as we know them?
    Getting there. A lot of news comes from ‘online’ these
    days. Traditional papers are finding it tough.

    Global aspects

    World-wide instantaneous reporting.
    Yep.

    Language translation.
    Yep.

    Big investment in communications (but increasing
    nationalism in these services?).
    Nope.

  10. [...] Check out Calder’s blog with additional notes about their predictions here [...]

  11. [...] The Internet anticipated in 1964 When the New Scientist’s 1964 series of predictions for “The World in 1984” was published by Penguin Books the following year, I added tables at the end. They summarized what seemed to me the main expectations of the scientists and scholars (about 100 of them) who contributed to the project. The first table concerned “Major Technological Revolutions” and I reproduce its contents below, reformatted to fit the page but otherwise unmodified in any way. The question marks denoted explicit disagreement or implicit controversy on important points. [...]

  12. [...] 1: The internet, as imagined in 1965 2: Internet 64 [...]

  13. Brian Carpenter says:

    “Please be clear there’s no claim here about “inventing” the Internet. That was done by the US Advanced Research Projects Agency in 1983. ”

    Not actually. In reality, the concept was first documented by Louis Pouzin, a French engineer who had worked on the ARPANET along with Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and other luminaries. Agreed, the concept actually came to life on January 1, 1983, when ARPANET converted to TCP/IP.

    For example, see L. Pouzin, Interconnection of packet switching networks, 7th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Supplement, 1974.

  14. cak_loutfie says:

    wow very nice blog
    I was greatly helped by this information

    cheers

  15. Great to read about these early visions of the Internet. I wrote an article in 1998 about Vannevar Bush’s vision of a future device called the ‘Memex’ back in 1945 [ http://www.thewildeast.net/infocus/ifs/information.htm ]. I will add a link to this article. It’s a fascinating subject.

    • Vince Sanz says:

      I must say the article that you wrote was spot on. A very good read. However (it could just be me) does it seem to preach the idea of man creating something great, much in the same principle that God created man?

      I guess thats why they call it evolution :)

      • Well, prehistoric people thought God created the universe by speaking it into existence: ‘Let there be light, and there was…’. Literate men often spoke of him as the great author of the universe. After the invention of clocks, scientists came up with the idea of a clockwork universe that God had somehow wound up and that would eventually wind down. It’s quite natural that people today could see the universe as a giant computer. The Internet itself is sometimes written about with a global brain analogy as in Principia Cybernetica, a project from the early 1990s: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/GBRAIN-L.html

  16. Vince Sanz says:

    What a wonderful collection of intriguing ideas. However the revolution of the internet and internetworking has only just begun. As we read this now millions of people around the world are thinking up wonderful new ideas and applications to make everything a little easier/faster. So if any cares to make a prediction on the next 20 years of IT?

  17. [...] The Internet anticipated in 1964 A fascinating insight into how the world might look in the future, from the 1960s, comes courtesy of veteran science editor Nigel Calder. (tags: internet prediction technology history 1964 Nigel Calder "Nigel Calder") [...]

  18. [...] Sir Maurice Wilkes, creator of the pioneering Cambridge Edsac, came up with the idea of the World In A Box for a 1964 New Scientist series on the future. The tech may look wrong but the predictions about its effects are eerie: “The [...]

  19. computer says:

    Computer forensics is becoming increasingly necessary. Crime has increased in the last ten years and is one of the most common methods of committing crime. Millions of dollars are lost each year, theft of computer data. This work led to an increase in computer forensic-LED.

  20. Vito Meiller says:

    Arthur Clarke predicted all knowledge to be accessible years before. Can’t find the book which I think was Voices from the Sky so I could give real dates and more predictions

  21. Peter Hood says:

    Not quite a first though. Asimov predicted the net during the fifties, portraying a screen through which people ordered things and communicated. This might have been in I Robot, I can’t be sure of my memories here.

    In his original Foundation trilogy He also predicted speech to text through a printer with fancy fonts, a hand held computer, and so on. (Original; the trilogy had an item added, which was vague and less dramatic.)

    Even so, what a nostalgic read. Tempus fugit.

  22. H.Q. says:

    One great read indeed! It gets quite weird when it comes to all the names things were called!

    @Peter Hood:
    I would rather disagree on this point, Asimov was a great novelist, meaning he could let his fantasy go wild in a sci-fi space… “Imagining” things is quite different from studying the facts at hand and trying to see into the future… the result might be -barely- similar but the logical process is what gives credit to Mr. Calder and all those who’ve seen their way into “Our” present…

    • Peter Hood says:

      If you read the episode where a foundation ‘police vessel’ intercepts the escapees, there is a description of a hand held computing device that sounds uncannily like the devices that are used by people on the road today, in business and privately. His description of something like Dragon Dictate going straight to a printer is even more uncanny. This was not fanciful, as time has shown, because these things are here, 60 years after he wrote down his ideas. I read them in the 70s without realising how old they were even then. They fascinated and compelled me so much that I expected all that is happening now. The sad part is that he didn’t live to see it, even though he seemed assured about it.

      One of his pet themes was miniaturisation of everything blended with advanced electronics. This he evidently felt would save on materials. In the first foundation environment materials were scarce, and this was the way around the problem.

      Here we are, doing it, and it is so good that I would like to live forever. Heh.

  23. dr charles heller…

    [...]Internet 64 « Calder's Updates[...]…

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