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A Look At the "Information Superhighway," As It Looked In 1985 241

Posted by timothy
from the before-civilian-gps-mind-you dept.
jfruh writes "AT&T's video library is a treasure trove of future-looking films from the past, and this one is no exception. Combining what might be the first on-film use of the phrase 'information superhighway' with predictions of Siri-like services and sweet '80s computer graphics, this offers a valuable look at how close we came to our past's future."
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A Look At the "Information Superhighway," As It Looked In 1985

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:25PM (#40434479)

    http://archive.org/details/DouglasAdams-Hyperland

  • by Anonymous Coward
    For a video made in the 80s, there is a dearth of embarrassing haircuts and/or clothes.... Come on 1980s!
    • by lorenlal (164133)

      But they did manage to include that embarrassing quote "If cars advanced as much as computers." Of course, he neglected to mention the whole part about how "it would randomly stop working, we'd have to restart it, and we'd think it was totally acceptable."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:31PM (#40434513)

    They (AT&T, Xerox, IBM, and multinational companies of similar stature at the time) thought that the global information infrastructure would be centralized, monolithic and closed. Businesses and consumers would have to choose a provider that would provide the whole enchilada.

    This was the backdrop for Japan's Fifth Generation project (referenced by the AT&T video around 13:30) and was met with a certain amount of panic in the US at the time.

    • by trdrstv (986999) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:50PM (#40434627)

      They (AT&T, Xerox, IBM, and multinational companies of similar stature at the time) thought that the global information infrastructure would be centralized, monolithic and closed. Businesses and consumers would have to choose a provider that would provide the whole enchilada.

      Not surprising. They figured "the internet" would be run like cable TV... hell Cable TV providers are still trying to make that happen.

      • by rs79 (71822)

        they had ihnp4 as an example. what other conclusion could they have come up with?

        (the guy at 1:29 looks like Jim Fleming who signed of on it's replacement, ihnpss)

    • by jsimon12 (207119) <tzzhc4@ya h o o.com> on Monday June 25, 2012 @12:55AM (#40435353) Homepage

      1985 was only 1 year after the Ma Bell breakup and while the Macintosh was out IBM still dominated the PC business. So when you look at this in the context of the times it makes sense that they would think the network and infrastructure would be closed because that was the way things were during the time period. I am glad they aren't like that though I think with AT&T reformed and Apple controlling the whole experiance things might go back to the "Ma Bell" days :(

      • by rs79 (71822)

        "1985 was only 1 year after the Ma Bell breakup and while the Macintosh was out IBM still dominated the PC business."

        Well, yeah, but the PC business was only 2 years old. Soon IBM would have its first competitor: compaq.

        pdp11's, vax, sun, apollo, and any number of microprocessor based business systems abounded. the PC wasn't so certain in 85. I was able to avoid the wretched things till 88 or so.

        • pdp11's, vax, sun, apollo, and any number of microprocessor based business systems abounded. the PC wasn't so certain in 85. I was able to avoid the wretched things till 88 or so.

          Yep. In the home, almost no one had a PC. It was Amiga/ST/C64/Atari 800/Spectrum and the odd Apple II. Business wise, I saw the odd PC but they never really took off until Win 3.x in the big way we now remember.

        • And most of those were some form of dumb terminal. With the technology of the time, it just made sense - who would want a power-sucking, noisy, expensive, high-maintainence piece of equipment like a computer in their home? It seemed more practical for the service provider to maintain those, and for home users to just have the basic hardware needed to access it remotely and rent what resources they need. And maybe play a few simple single-player games and do the most basic computational tasks like text editi
    • Of course, as computer scientists we can say with utter certainty that the scare tactics at the end of the film were utterly unnecessary: the claim that countries other than France had Minitel ('video terminals in the home') fell apart rapidly [wikipedia.org], and expert systems and knowledge inference, the messiahs of 80s AI research, utterly failed to amount to anything. Even the Japanese Fifth Generation Computer System flopped due to a lack of market. In retrospect it's obvious that the end of the video was corporate p

    • by Narishma (822073)

      Well, for a while in the early 90's it was looking like it would go that way. There were about half a dozen closed services like Compuserve, AOL or Genie with a relatively large number of subscribers each. Thankfully they were quickly overtaken by the open Internet.

  • by IgnitusBoyone (840214) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:34PM (#40434531)

    I've always found it interesting, how projections get the basic concepts right, but they completely miss on the piratical implementation of things. In TNG everyone caries around a small computing pad, but they seem to keep several of them from different reports and do not have any internal communication systems unless they download from a master main frame

    Early on one of the interviews talks about full volumetric holographic displays by the end of the centuries, but ignores the middle ground of real time video transmission on existing displays. And the artistic renderings through out the video's keep displays as simple monochrome 13inch displays, because no one seems to imagine a high resolution color display, but they can predict the need for a network based communication network to transmit idea's.

    The basics of the video are valid and a good projection to modern times, but all of the interpretations of how it will be implemented show a limitation based on 1985's existing tech. You see this same limitation in the early 1950/1960's articles on the world of tomorrow.

    • Exactly. I watched the original Alien again movie the other day and the "mother" room is full with nothing but a million little light bulbs and a tiny monochrome text only display. Not bad for 1979 though.
    • by fermion (181285)
      There was a big miss with basic computers as well. It was assumed in many of the classic sci fi books that hard stuff, like calculations, would be done by hand while easy stuff like cleaning the house would be done by robots.

      The distressing thing is that this misconception still pervades the teaching of automation. Hardly ever do I see stationary machines doing useful work. Mostly what I see are moving machines engaged in meaningless activity that has no application in the real world, unless you are ta

      • by FrankSchwab (675585) on Monday June 25, 2012 @12:17AM (#40435157) Journal

        Hardly ever do I see stationary machines doing useful work. Mostly what I see are moving machines engaged in meaningless activity that has no application in the real world

        Ever seen an NC mill, lathe, waterjet, etc?

      • by azalin (67640)
        Are you only referring to household toys, or are we talking robots/machines in general? While I do admit that household robotics is mostly expensive toys (like the roomba) the amount of highly sophisticated and very useful robotics elsewhere is enormous.
      • by epine (68316)

        It was assumed in many of the classic sci fi books that hard stuff, like calculations, would be done by hand while easy stuff like cleaning the house would be done by robots.

        In nearly 100% of these cases, the author was more invested in his success as a writer than his success as a futurist. You found this stuff sitting right beside accounts that were nowhere near this stupid. It's pretty hard to write a convincing story (that men will buy) where doing your own vacuuming helps you get laid.

        I read a fair a

    • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday June 25, 2012 @12:27AM (#40435201) Homepage Journal
      hey completely miss on the piratical implementation of things

      Not sure if that typo was intentional or not, but you did hit on a big issue. The world of the future they envisioned was also one where they still controlled all content distribution.....They never really thought about the implications of people being able to store and transmit massive video libraries on their own....
    • Really though, in this movie the things they got right were the things that were already implemented. This was 1985, after all, a lot of people were already passing images over the net. When they started predicting, they went wrong.
    • by nickersonm (1646933) on Monday June 25, 2012 @01:11AM (#40435443)
      That's an excellent point - there seems to be a certain timeframe beyond which futurists fail to consider the implications of progressive implementation. On only slightly shorter timeframes, they can actually do quite well - for example, AT&T had a series of "You Will" ads in 1993 [youtube.com] that were strangely accurate in predicting modern technology. Presumably it has something to do with extending an existing technology in a logical way rather than trying to determine the intermediate uses of new concepts.
    • by tsa (15680)

      That is one of the things that made '2002' such a great movie: flat screens, Skype-like communication with pictures and more stuff that was quite inconceivable in those days.

  • by EdIII (1114411) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:36PM (#40434547)

    Not mentioned was the first test run of the flux capacitor.

    Unfortunately, it was strapped to a DeLorean so it did not have a lot of credibility at the time.

    • by cffrost (885375)

      Not mentioned was the first test run of the flux capacitor.

      Unfortunately, it was strapped to a DeLorean so it did not have a lot of credibility at the time.

      If you're gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style? Besides, the stainless steel construction makes the flux dispersa
      NO CARRIER

  • Where's China? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Amiga Trombone (592952) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:49PM (#40434617)

    One thing stood out for me was that of all the nations discussed as possible competitors to the US, China wasn't even mentioned once. This was made less than 30 years ago. Just goes to show you how quickly the unexpected can happen.

    • The 80s were Japan's rise. I don't recall hearing about China until the 90s.

      • Re:Where's China? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki@gmail. c o m> on Sunday June 24, 2012 @11:35PM (#40434915) Homepage

        And the 90's was Japan's fall. Oddly enough if the 2000's were China's rise, this decade will probably be China's fall.

        • Re:Where's China? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday June 25, 2012 @12:18AM (#40435163) Homepage Journal
          Thats already starting to happen, growth is slowing in China, who copied Japans economy right down to the bad debts. And just as in Japan, as long as the economy was growing fast the debts really didnt matter, but that era is coming to a close. China bulls are in for a rude awakening when they find out that China is, in fact, not made of magical economy elves that prevent the economy from ever shrinking.
        • by roman_mir (125474)

          This decade will be the decade of the fall of the US dollar, fall of the Euro, fall of the concept of 'social contract' and ever greater rise of the economies that actually produce stuff and those who export energy, raw materials and agriculture products.

          China is already the dominant economy in the world today and it will only strengthen that position. Given what the choices are in USA and Europe for the leaders and given the fact what the understanding of economics and history is among the general populat

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      Parts where made in the UK, US for the mil, people leaving the mil, gov where selling their unique skills....
      South Korea, Japan, other parts of SE Asia where all setting up to supply the world as good, safe, cheaper, trusted non communist production zones as needed.
      The US got smarter and went one cheaper - China - lol all the way to the bank.
      The deal was done under Nixon, it just took a while for the average person to understand role of communist production zones while not liking communist Russia.....
      Ja
  • Telecommute (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LinuxInDallas (73952) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:55PM (#40434659)

    The intro actually used the word telecommute when talking about how computers were in the home. Was that a word in common usage at the time? I was only 12 at the time banging out BASIC programs copied from magazines so I wouldn't recall lol.

  • by RogueWarrior65 (678876) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:57PM (#40434667)

    The Ontario Science Centre in the mid-1970s was wicked cool. The glimpses into the future were all there for you to touch and play with. (The Philips Coffee Machine was one of my favorites). Sadly, science museums have devolved into environmentalism and global warming preaching which by comparison is about as much fun as watching the organic, free-range, fair-trade grass grow.

    • by rs79 (71822)

      The science center opened in 1970. Lasers you could watch burn wood, computers you could use yourself and more cool things than you could do in a day. It was, and remains, utterly inspirational.

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      The Ontario Science Centre in the mid-1970s was wicked cool. The glimpses into the future were all there for you to touch and play with. (The Philips Coffee Machine was one of my favorites). Sadly, science museums have devolved into environmentalism and global warming preaching which by comparison is about as much fun as watching the organic, free-range, fair-trade grass grow.

      Check out the Miraikan [jst.go.jp] in Tokyo, or the Exploratorium [exploratorium.edu] in San Francisco to see a Science Museum that doesn't hit you over the head with environmentalism. Just say away from the California Acadmy of Sciences in San Francisco since just about every exhibit in that museum talks about how whatever that exhibit is about is dying because of climate change.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Monday June 25, 2012 @08:50AM (#40437549) Journal

      Sadly, science museums have devolved into environmentalism and global warming preaching which by comparison is about as much fun as watching the organic, free-range, fair-trade grass grow.

      Damn liberal scientists, always trying to save the world. Better to send your kids to a good conservative museum [creationmuseum.org].

  • by viperidaenz (2515578) on Sunday June 24, 2012 @10:58PM (#40434681)
    Can films be used as prior art to invalidate patents?
    • Can films be used as prior art to invalidate patents?

      So if somebody invented the matter replicator right now you wouldn't think they'd deserve a patent on it?

  • Al Gore didn't go into the Senate until 1985. so inventing the Information Super Highway (née, Internet) must have been the very first thing he did when he got in office!

    • He was a congressman for 9 years prior to being elected to the Senate. He was boring the pants off everyone about the Internet since the 70s! The actual quote containing his infamous claim was:

      During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.

      • by azalin (67640)
        How very nice of him to do. Did he use the good old trusty method of "there shall be light" to start the first fiber optics?
        • No, it was more like "let there be money".

          It is just like how Steve Jobs didn't work in a Foxconn sweatshop building iPhones, and yet he still got the kudos for the product.

  • Not one mention of lolcats? Wow, they were way off, as lolcats have taken over the entire internet.
  • by Spy Handler (822350) on Monday June 25, 2012 @12:48AM (#40435319) Homepage Journal

    quality of life was better. Kids actually went outside and played on a regular basis. Physically playing, not 3DS or iPad games... or facebooking each other on the "information superhighway".

    They rode bicycles without a helmet -- nanny state hadn't passed mandatory helmet laws for bicycles back then -- and didn't die! And no, 60% of kids weren't obese and didn't have diabetes back then.

    • by tbird81 (946205)

      Was quality of life better?

      I'd love to be a kid nowadays!

    • by hawguy (1600213)

      quality of life was better. Kids actually went outside and played on a regular basis. Physically playing, not 3DS or iPad games... or facebooking each other on the "information superhighway".

      They rode bicycles without a helmet -- nanny state hadn't passed mandatory helmet laws for bicycles back then -- and didn't die! And no, 60% of kids weren't obese and didn't have diabetes back then.

      Actually, one of my friends in the early 80's fell off his bike and hit his head, and while he didn't die, he ended up spending a few days in the hospital (he was trying to show us how long he could ride a wheelie). He hit his head hard and lost consciousness.... there was a bloody spot under his head. Fortunately this was when neighbors actually knew each other, so the rest of us ran to the nearest neighbor's house (leaving him laying alone on the road!) and she called for help (but not 911 since that pre

      • by azalin (67640)
        And let us not forget today's bikes are so much cooler than anything we had available back then.
    • by azalin (67640)
      I do remember 1985 pretty well and while it is true that some things where "more free" back then, I also do remember a whole bunch of things I'm very happy to have removed from modern living. CFCs, lead paint, asbestos, leaded fuel, no seatbelts, a whole range of cancerous additives in plastic toys, DDT and it's merry friends and many more.
      Nanny it may be, but just look up the car accidents to fatality ratio back then and today.
      And let us not forget the clothing, that was an eyesore.

      PS: Yes I do kno
    • by Kjella (173770)

      They rode bicycles without a helmet -- nanny state hadn't passed mandatory helmet laws for bicycles back then -- and didn't die!

      You can drive for many, many years without a seat belt too, until the day you come to a very sudden and brutal stop. Serious head trauma is not a "learning experience" but more of a maiming experience. Cuts, scrapes and bruises, a twisted ankle or a few broken bones are learning experiences and plenty painful enough, generally without the risk of long-term/permanent injury or death. Besides they are going to bang their head in lesser ways, according to my parents I did a good headbutt with the living room t

  • One thing they definitely got wrong in this production was the direction the earth rotates on its axis.

  • Get Real! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gnu-sucks (561404) on Monday June 25, 2012 @02:31AM (#40435827) Journal
    Alright, so let's say the example in the video took place today:

    Company 1 in Europe has an idea for a part and contacts Company 2 in America to produce it:

    1) Company 1 googles and finds the name of a company in America to produce the part. They call the American company and it takes two hours to wade through the phone system menus and leave several voice mails and wait for a reply.

    2) Company 1 can't give any details without a signed NDA, and because of requirements from the company's lawyers, the NDA has to be faxed over, signed, and faxed back.

    3) Once they agree to work together, company 1 wants to send company 2 a copy of the design.
    3a) The email bounces because it was typed wrong due to international spelling differences
    3b) Once the email stops bouncing, it is picked up by a spam filter and nobody ever sees it
    3c) Since the email had a large attachment, microsoft exchange choked and the server admin had to come in on the weekend and rebuild the databases
    3d) After that, Company 1 decides to just put the file on an internal FTP server.
    3e) Company 2 isn't able to use FTP in windows without downloading a program from the internet, which involves getting permission from the IT department, registering the program with the developer, convincing the anti-virus software to allow the ftp program to run, etc etc
    3f) The server at Company 1, an older machine not frequently used, isn't firewalled correctly by an unintelligent cisco firewall product, and fails to correctly open the reverse datastream. The files never arrive, as the connections hang.
    3g) Company 1 gives up and uses Dropbox.
    3h) The files arrive at Company 2, but they are also intercepted by some Russian and Chinese hackers that easily evesdropped into their dropbox using a script inserted several months ago to look for interesting keywords.

    4) Many months pass, and finally the prototypes are shipped over to Europe, where it is discovered, the Americans did not convert metric units to English units correctly for each portion of the project, and nothing screws together.

    5) The hacked data is leaked to the highest paying competitor.

    The other futuristic situation, about the doctor, is equally obnoxious these days if you factor in HIPPA, incompatible data formats, and even lower IT standards.

    Let's face it, this started off as a great idea and became something quite different.
    • by azalin (67640)
      You are not exactly of the jolly persuasion, are you?
      PS: Just to be nitpicking: Windows does include a command line ftp prompt (and has for a while) and with newer versions ftp servers can be mapped directly from the windows explorer. Windows sucks, but not as bad as some would like it to.
  • The music, it burns in my ears.

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