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That '70s Show: the Conference That Predicted the Future of Work ( 40

theodp writes: Over at Wired, Leslie Berlin writes about Futures Day at the 1977 Xerox World Conference, an invitation-only demonstration of the Alto personal computer system developed at Xerox PARC. It's an excerpt from Troublemakers: How a Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented the Future. Both Berlin's book and Brian Dear's recent The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture are shedding light on groundbreaking systems of the '70s that were ultimately done in by the less-featured but low-cost Apple II (yes, $2,638 for a system with 48 kB of RAM was 'low cost'!) and other personal computers. Interestingly, Dear notes that the Xerox Parc and PLATO teams sent people out to see and learn and exchange ideas with each other over the years. Their interactions included 'tremendous battles' over the advantages and disadvantages of mouse interfaces [Xerox] vs. touch screens [PLATO], as well as plasma displays [PLATO] vs. other, cheaper display solutions [Xerox]. As is the case with many debates, both teams proved to be "right." Apple wouldn't introduce the masses to a mouse interface until 1984 [Macintosh] and a touch screen interface until 2007 [iPhone].
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That '70s Show: the Conference That Predicted the Future of Work

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  • by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Wednesday December 27, 2017 @04:13PM (#55817637)

    I had a Casio tc-50 calculator watch in 1983 that was touch screen. And not that pathetic bendy screen like cheap touch devices - this was a proper glass-faced capacitive touch.

    I miss that watch.

    • Casio technology is at least twenty years ahead of human technology. E.g. this watch that sets itself using radio all over the world and charges its batteries with solar power. []

      • Casio technology is at least twenty years ahead of human technology.

        Except for their pocket calculators, pretending to be able to work with complex numbers (but actually unable to do anything with them beyond the most basic arithmetics).

      • I have a older battery powered Casio G-Shock watch that is at least 10 years old and I have yet to replace the battery. I refuse to replace the watch until the battery dies and I keep waiting.......
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The computer you want always costs $2500.

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      $2500 in 1977 dollars is like $10,500 in 2017 purchasing power. $2500 in today's money is $650 in 1977 dollars.

      Other than buying name-brand server hardware and/or licensing, I'm not sure that I could spend $10,500 on a single computer system without going off the deep end on storage or going for 6 43" 4k displays or something.

  • I wonder... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Wednesday December 27, 2017 @05:01PM (#55817943)
    Were these notions of computing successful because they were the best ideas? Or just because they were early enough to be adopted and fill the niche? Someday, aliens might come to Earth and show us their PCs, and we will facepalm and wonder why we didn't think of that.
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      There are plenty of stories of technologies that were ahead of their time, but the market didn't exist at that time. On the other side, there are stories of technologies that arrived on the market late in the game and couldn't get past the incumbent who already had majority market share.

  • Apple released a touch screen product years before the iPhone. The Newton.
  • So they predicted stack ranking, outsourcing, offshoring, open plan, and wage stagnation?

  • As is the case with many debates, both teams proved to be "right."

    Brain explosion time.

    The right answer for the next three decades was a laser wheel mouse with two primary buttons.

    The "right" answer for the next fifteen years was a 3-megapixel, 26" diagonal, 96 dpi, 4:3 aspect-ratio, monochrome screen with an 85-Hz refresh rate.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.