#1: The Future of Communications from 1968

It is impossible for any human to see into the future, even with specially calculated data to give an accurate guess into what could happen in life. As for the idea of communication and technology, a person’s guess is as good as any other’s in terms of what will become of it. That’s speaking even in today’s world where technology changes almost every week, if not every day.

What if we had lived almost 40 years ago? Could we even start to envision what the world of communication and technology would be like for us today? If we were to watch television of that time, we could see animated shows of people flying cars to work and having robots do our housecleaning for us. That would be our vision of the future to come. However, with this being the common vision of things to come, there were a select few who had done extensive research into computer technology and have recorded their studies and thoughts on what they believe would happen in the world of communication in the future.

In 1968, a written work was printed for Science and Technology, titled, “The Computer as a Communication Device.” Written by J.C.R. Licklider and Robert W. Taylor, the publication gave their insight into what technology is capable of now, and what technology can possibly accomplish in the near future. Licklider and Taylor open the document with the sentences, “In a few years, men will be able to communicate more effectively through a machine than face to face. That is a rather startling thing to say, but it is our conclusion (21).” Considering the documents were published 38 years ago, it is startling to think that they not only made such a bold prediction so long ago, but that they were accurate for the most part.

One of their ‘predictions’ came through their explanation on how people will communicate face to face through a computer. Licklider and Taylor explained how an office meeting had been set up, with a speaker talking about the presentation and making reference to an image on a screen. The details of the project in question would be on individuals’ computer screens, so they could get their own understanding of what has been mentioned and referenced. They mentioned, “…a future version of this system will make it possible for each participant, on his own TV screen, to thumb through the speaker’s files as the speaker talks… without interrupting the presentation for substantiation (25).” Microsoft PowerPoint was released 16 years later, making this prediction come to public existence.

Some of Licklider and Taylor’s thoughts were headed in the correct direction, but they couldn’t quite see how the future would determine the outcome of certain variables. They mention how, “…there are strong intellectual and social benefits to be realized by the melding of these two technologies,” of information transmission and information processing, and that, “…there are also, however, powerful legal and administrative obstacles in the way of any such melding (28).” They had their own reasons for mentioning how technological communications could be hindered by government and other authorities, and things haven’t changed much since. With the recent controversy over ‘net neutrality,” the idea of communication has been tossed into the air and it’s now the government’s decision on who gets to control the communication pathways – the online participant or one’s local Internet Service Provider. A comment was made, in relation to communication with a computer, that there was an “importance of making the response time short and the conversation free and easy (31).” They probably didn’t mean free in a monetary sense, but considering how it’s almost impossible now to do anything for free online today, they could see already that the flow of communication could be easily disrupted by such simple factors as freedom and ease of use. Licklider and Taylor had no clue then that by now the connection of computers to people in a networked state would reach such a global level, but they still knew that this kind of communication power would eventually grab the attention of a higher authority.

It is impossible for any human being to see into the future, as stated before, even with the right data to make an educated guess. Licklider and Taylor were able to see accurate predictions of what the future had in store for us by looking at people’s interactions with computer-based communications. However, they weren’t exactly accurate in all predictions. One prediction that stood out from the others was the claim that “unemployment would disappear from the face of the Earth forever,” based on computer advancements and user interaction (40). The technology has indeed exceeded the expectations of what Licklider and Taylor had envisioned, but today it has gone to the extent of people becoming laid off or turned down because of others who can operate in computer-based communications faster and more effectively. Communicating through a computer has not only become a global reality, but it has evolved from being a tool in corporate work to almost a necessity in everyday life.

The question to be asked now is, if Licklider and Taylor took the data of today’s modern computer-based communication, could they tell us what they think will happen to us in the year 2044?

References used from:
Licklider, J.C.R., and Taylor, R. (1968). The computer as a communication device. Science and Technology.

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~ by Cliff Huizenga on September 5, 2006.

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