August 10, 2009

One big thing futurists got wrong!

And that's the size of computers as time progressed.

Once again, I turn to Time Warp (apparently it is two words, not one like I had been writing) #5 and its story "The Vengeance of C-92." C-92 is a continent-sized computer (that's what the "C" stands for -- "continent") that runs -- you guessed it -- the whole continent.

Of course, today, we scoff at this erroneous prediction of massive computers. Just imagine what the intelligent folk at Popular Mechanics magazine feel like today based on their 1954 prediction of what a home computer would look like ... in 2004: UPDATE: This is an Internet hoax. Thanks to commenter Pat for pointing this out!

I don't know if you can read it, but the last line in the caption says "With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use." Wow.

One of the best-ever stories in early Iron Man issues is found in #5 -- "Frenzy in a Far-Flung Future." Tony Stark is whisked to the future to face judgment for his creation -- a massive computer named "Cerebrus" (see below) that has taken over the world and enslaved mankind!

In film, 1970's "Colossus: The Forbin Project" similarly believed that a powerful computer would need to be immense. Here's a shot of Colossus's "home," built inside a mountain:

This is not unlike "Krell," the planet-wide computer from "Forbidden Planet."

Colossus, and a similar Soviet supercomputer named "Guardian," joined together and took over the planet. But unlike "Skynet" in the "Terminator" films, Colossus did not desire to eliminate humanity. It actually wanted to learn from us, especially the concept of love. But don't be mistaken -- if we f***ed Colossus over and didn't do what it wished, it wouldn't hesitate to retaliate. When US military personnel attempts to replace the detonators on nuclear missiles with "dummies," Colossus explodes one of the nukes!

"Colossus" is an exceptional film despite its technology-guessing shortcomings. In fact, I use a modified version of the Colossus logo from the film at my politics-oriented blog!

Just consider how computer technology has really progressed from the earliest home computers that were available in the early 1980s. I recall an old magazine I discovered in my basement that displayed some of these models -- the "cheapest" of them cost around $5,000! Now, a laptop a fraction of the size of one of those units costs a fraction of that, and has a gazillion times the computing power. Oh, and Popular Mechanics? You don't need to know Fortran to operate it, either!

Next up? Quantum computers. Watch out!


Soccer Dad said...

When I first started working in the summers, I worked on an HP computer, slightly larger than a refrigerator. Now my cell phone has more computing power!

ShadowWing Tronix said...

We may all laugh about it, but think about this: if as Soccer Dad noted the cell phone has more processing power than the old fashioned room-sized computers, you have to figure a planet sized computer with even today's technology would have even more processing power, much less a future advancement.

Hube said...

That's true, SWT; however, of course, why would we build a planet-sized computer when -- by the time we could actually do something like that -- the processing power we'd need will probably be available via something the size of a pebble!

Pat said...

That supposed home computer circa 2004 is a well-known hoax:

Hube said...

Obviously not well-known enough, Pat! Thanks for pointing that out. I hadn't even considered that, especially since our computer teacher had that very pic and caption hanging in her room!

Yikes! I'd better let her know!

Engineer Robert said...

Forbidden Planet didn't have a computer named "Krell". Krell was the name of the alien race that was on the planet. The machine that was shown in the film wasn't "planet-wide", either. It was an 8000 cubic mile cube (twenty miles on each side).