Darwin's Theories Blog

New Theories for a New Time

I Predicted The Computer Industry - in 1981

Article I wrote for a student workstation project

Mike O’Dell once quipped that "nobody’s armchair is a good predicter of the future." Nonetheless, we do try to predict it, from the comfort of our armchairs. So much of what we now take for granted on today’s personal computers and laptops was simply unavailable when I wrote this. I’ve uploaded my attempt to predict, in the early 1980’s, what that decade would bring. Some of my predictions came true, some came later than I said, and some did not arrive. I was inspired at the time by what I had seen and read, so I can’t claim the individual ideas to be remarkably original. I do think I was the first to put everything together in this form.

At the time, my then-boss Terry J. Wood and I were doing some technology advocacy, trying to get others to recognize the rapid pace of tech change that was just starting. We had a saying along the lines of "what will it mean when you can hold a 10 MB hard disk in your hand?" Today you can hide a 4 TB NVME SSD in your shirt pocket - that’s 400,000 times as much storage, and it takes a tiny fraction of the space and the electricity.

I didn’t predict quite how far disk density would increase, nor software-switchable keyboard layouts. And for those who aren’t up on their computing history, before personal computers came along, dedicated deskside PCs that could only do "word processing" were having their 15 minutes of fame in the office technology arena.

If you substitute one really wide LCD monitor or two "plain" wide monitors, and a headset for the telephone handset, my predictions don’t look too far off the mark. 4K TVs and video monitors can be had for around US$500, 8K is appearing, so I suppose my 12K prediction will be met or exceeded by 16K video sometime this decade. I did get that there would be social media with pictures and messages from family and friends. The laptop I’m writing this on features a touchpad - they’re standard on laptops now - though smaller than the one I envisaged. Headphones/earbuds, built-in microphones, speakers, and cameras are also standard. The scan of the original sketch was done on a complete computer system "that you can hold in your hand", that is, a smartphone. So, in fact, was the OCR (optical character recognition) that turned a 1980’s dot-matrix printout into the text of the article which you can finally read here.