The 7th episode of The GeekBits Podcast is here! In this episode we perform a thought experiment where we question how the world might be different if technology had stopped advancing in 1982.
What if Technology had Stalled in the 80s?
We asked ourselves “What if technology had stalled in the 80s?” “How would the world be different today?” Well we took this thought experiment and used it for the basis of The Geekbits Podcast episode 7!
That’s right David’s shower thought of the month is the idea that technology stalled in 1982 and wasn’t able to advance any further. This is some hypothetical issue where the processors couldn’t be made to go any faster. That’s right everyone in the 2020s would still be using 8 bit computers!
We asked ourselves a bunch of questions:
- Would we have the Internet?
- What about websites like eBay, and Amazon?
- What about online shopping in general?
- How would cars have advanced?
- Would we have MRIs and CAT scans?
- What about the space program?
- What about the smartphone?
It turns out the answer to some of these questions in shocking. For example, we asked if cars would have ever had touch screen systems like the cars of today? You might be shocked to learn that the 1980s had the Buick Reatta loaded with a touch screen CRT in the center console!
You might be surprised to learn that due to long certification lead times, NASA is using chips that are decades old. The Mars rover for example is run on a Power PC processor of eons ago!
Follow along in this podcast as we dive in to these fascinating topics!
My wife and I LOVE the GeekBits podcast!
I’m a 50something comp sci major, working in Plano, so naturally I have additional thoughts re computer languages.
Y’all’re probably correct that high-level languages would most likely be relegated to minicomputers, with terminals time-sharing clusters of machines in racks, not unlike telecom switches in the 90s.
However, not only was Object-Oriented Analysis/Design/Programming conceived in the 60s and 70s, it has a singularly powerful champion: Smalltalk. Smalltalk-80 (the 1980 revision) and its descendants are full-octane programming languages, rivalling modern statically compiled languages in power. It’s one of those “should have been” languages, and one of many products of the supercharged XEROX PARC of the 70s (along with ethernet and the mouse and WYSIWYG desktop publishing).
Similarly, dynamic “languages” written in the 70s still pack a lot of punch today: examples are AWK, sed, lex, and yacc. As these are UNIX tools, they’d live on UNIX-like mini computers, rather than personal computers. And just as technology would refine itself without the benefits of miniaturization, dynamic languages similar to Perl or Python would emerge from 1970s/80s languages like REXX, APL, LISP, and yes, even BASIC. Again, I suspect they’d mostly be relegated to minicomputers.
I say “relegated to minicomputers”, but at the same time I’ve been thinking about writing a lite version of AWK for the Commander X16…
In summary: computer science would be stuck in the 80s in its hardware, and processor speed limits, and graphics, but not its programming languages. Current software concepts existed then and would have near-full expression even without the microcomputer. Even the modern software workshop, where programming is more or less a commodity, might still exist, in the form of terminals time-sharing a central machine or cluster.
In France in 1982 an online home terminal based system was rolled out like you all were talking about. Called the “Minitel”, the system was one of the first nation wide online networks that is close to what many do on the internet today. , “From its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to what is now made possible by the World Wide Web”. from WIkipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel. The system remained in operation until 2009.
Also, I remember being in Europe back in the day, and over the air analog TV broadcasts with “Teletext” were common. Teletext in Europe was common in the 1980s. “Teletext is a standard for displaying text and rudimentary graphics on suitably equipped television sets. Teletext sends data in the broadcast signal, hidden in the invisible vertical blanking interval area at the top and bottom of the screen. The teletext decoder in the television buffers this information as a series of “pages”, each given a number. The user can display chosen pages using their remote control.” from Wikipedia. I am not sure why it never took off in the USA in the 80s. Teletext was pretty mainstream in Europe until the DTV switchover.
I’ve been a full-stack developer for about 20 years. The biggest change I’ve seen since 1999 is that as things became faster and more powerful, they started adding more layers to things. These are layers that most people never see. This is everything from security layers to middleware to all sorts of UI niceties that users are completely unaware of and devs only care about when something goes wrong.
Also, Windows 10 has been a lot more considerate about updates lately. Many updates don’t need to be restarted and the one’s that do don’t get installed until I manually click Restart and Update. It is a better world.