Carrying memory in
(Sinclair User, December 1982)
Nigel Searle looks to the
IN 1964, as an undergraduate, I saw a computer for the first
time. It was an IBM 1620. I spent a good deal of time, much
of it late at night, using that machine during the next two
years. I realised that the IBM 1620 represented a considerable
advance over the technologically primitive computers of the
late 1940s and 1950s and I gave some thought to the directions
in which future improvements might lead.
I did not imagine, however, that 18 years later a small company
called Sinclair Research would have sold more than one million
computers and that the biggest-selling model, the ZX-81, would
offer computer power similar to that of the IBM 1620 for less
than £50. Still less did I imagine that I might be involved
in running that company.
Obviously, the 18-year period from 1964 to 1982 has been
one of enormous change. Another 18 years will take us to 2000,
a suitable target for predictions about the future. What will
personal computers be like in 2000? For what will they be
If Sinclair Research has anything to do with it, as it intends
it should. The personal computer of the future will be small
and inexpensive. Sufficiently inexpensive that anyone who
has a use for one, and that might be everyone, will be able
to afford it. As for size, it will certainly fit in your pocket
and it may even be as small as a credit card.
There will be no keyboard. Instead you will communicate with
your computer by speaking to it. You may have to adhere more
strictly to rules of grammar and pronunciation than in human-to-human
speech but even that requirement eventually will disappear
and, as Sinclair advertisements for the ZX-81 say, "Inside
a day, you'll be talking to it like a friend".
You will also be listening to it like a friend. A principal
means of computer-to-human communication will by synthesised
speech. It will also employ a flat, colour, high resolution
display to output information in graphic and alphanumeric
That small device will have a massive memory containing just
about anything you might want to know in the way of general
data about the rest of the world, as well as any amount of
personal information which you have instructed it to remember
The resident software in your personal computer will enable
it to organise its memory so that accurate, rapid retrieval
is possible. It will also be able to reason - to make logical
deductions from what it knows - and also to induce new facts,
attempt to verify them, and to assess their plausibility.
In terms of intelligence, it will be human-like but will
far surpass the speed and capacity of the human brain. It
will lack a body, consciousness and emotion. The latter two
might be simulated eventually but why one would want a machine
which was, or appeared to be, conscious and have emotions
is not clear. On top of that the personal computer of 2000
will also serve as a portable telephone, enabling you to communicate
with any other computer owner anywhere in the world.
Perhaps more important, you will be able to talk not just
to another person but to his computer; and your computer will
be able to communicate directly with his computer, perhaps
without either of you being aware you are doing so.
A typical use might go something like this:
Fred to computer: "What time is Bill getting back
Computer: "Bill who?"
Fred: "My brother Bill".
Computer searches its memory for information about brother
Bill's travel plans for today.
Finding no such information in its memory, Fred's computer
sends a message via satellite to Bill's computer, which recognises
Fred's code number and gives him access to the semi-private
parts of its memory.
Bill has not told his computer when he is travelling, so:
Bill's computer to Fred's: "I don't know; do you want
me to ask him?"
Fred's computer: "Yes, please"
These are not spoken but digitally-encoded communications.
I hope Sinclair User will let me write a second article
in 2000 to review the next 18 years. Perhaps I shall be lying
on a beach somewhere and I will just ask my computer to write
Nigel Searle is head of the computer division of Sinclair