Steve Jobs predicts the future at IDCA in Aspen (1983) AUDIO


Rare recording of Steve Jobs’ talk at the International Design Conference in Aspen where he touches the future of computing and gets many predictions right.

I was about to write an overview of Steve’s predictions but found this amazing post and story from Marcel Brown. I could not do better.

Below are excerpts of Marcel’s post (links and images are from me). Feel free to go at the source for more.

The International Design Conference in Aspen

Aspen Colorado
Aspen, Colorado. Skiers paradise and tech hub – for a day in 1983.

In 1983, Steve Jobs gave a speech to a relatively small audience at a somewhat obscure event called the International Design Conference in Aspen (IDCA). The theme of that year’s conference was “The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be”, which looking back seems all too fitting.

It is amazing to hear Steve Jobs talk about some things that were not fully realized until only a handful of years ago. This talks shows us just how incredibly ahead of his time he was. I’ve listened to the entirety of the recording a few times now and have taken extensive notes, of which I will further elaborate on in future blog postings. But for now, here are a few of the highlights – and remember – he is speaking in 1983. To put that in context, the Macintosh had not yet been introduced, Apple still thought the Lisa was going to be a hit, and the IBM PC was the second most popular personal computer behind the Apple II series:

- He mentions that computers are so fast they are like magic. I don’t think it is a coincidence that he called the iPad “magical”.

- He states that in a few years people will be spending more time interacting with personal computers than with cars. It seems so obvious now, but hardly a given back then.

- He equates society’s level of technology familiarity to being on a “first date” with personal computers. He recognized that technology would continue to evolve in the near future as would people’s comfort level with it. In hindsight, once it became dominant the PC industry stood relatively still while Jobs was busy planning “the next big thing”.

- He confidently talks about the personal computer being a new medium of communication. Again, this is before networking was commonplace or there was any inkling of the Internet going mainstream. Yet he specifically talks about early e-mail systems and how it is re-shaping communication. He matter-of-factly states that when we have portable computers with radio links, people could be walking around anywhere and pick up their e-mail. Again, this is 1983, at least 20 years before the era of mobile computing.

- He mentions an experiment done by MIT that sounds very much like a Google Street View application.

- He discusses early networking and the mess of different protocols that existed at the time. He predicts that we were about 5 years away from “solving” networking in the office and 10-15 years from solving networking in the home. I’d say he was pretty much dead-on.

- He says Apple’s strategy is to “put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you that you can learn how to use in 20 minutes”. Does that sound like anything we are familiar with today? And they wanted to do it with a “radio link” so that people wouldn’t need to hook it up to anything to communicate with “larger databases” and other computers. Hmmm ….

Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone App Store
Steve Jobs introduces the iPhone App Store

- He compares the nascent software development industry to the record industry. He says that most people didn’t necessarily know what computer they wanted to buy. In contrast, when walking into a record store they definitely knew what music they liked. This was because they got free samples of songs by listening to the radio.

He thought that the software industry needed something like a radio station so that people could sample software before they buy it. He believed that software distribution through traditional brick-and-mortar was archaic since software is digital and can be transferred electronically through phone lines. He foresees paying for software in an automated fashion over the phone lines with credit cards. I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds incredibly similar to the concept of the Apple App Store. Plus his comparison to the music industry just might be foreshadowing the iTunes store. You need to listen to the speech to hear the entirety of this passage for yourself.

- Right at the end of the Q&A session, a question is asked about voice recognition, which he believed was the better part of a decade away from reality. Given the context of Siri today, it is interesting to hear him talk about the difficultly of recognizing language vs voice because language is contextually driven. He says, “This stuff is hard”.

The IDCA Time Capsule & the Lisa Mouse

In a follow up post, Marcel touches on the events that surrounded the Conference – especially the Time Capsule that was created. Again, a recommended read.

Here’s an excerpt.

After Steve Jobs’ speech, in which he used an Apple Lisa computer to control what Celuch recalls was a 6 projector setup, John approached Jobs and asked for something that he could include in the time capsule. Jobs thought about it for a few seconds and then unplugged the mouse from the Lisa.

Celuch recalls that he was amused by the manner in which he was handed the mouse, as Jobs held the mouse by its cord, almost as one would hold a real mouse by the tail. So into the time capsule the Lisa mouse went, where it was buried at the end of the conference to be unearthed about 20 years later.

Apple Lisa Mouse
A similar Lisa mouse (in pristine condition) is buried in Aspen. What value would that have on eBay?

And here is where the story gets really interesting. As Celuch recalls, the time capsule was not unearthed as planned. I did some research on this and found a newspaper article published in 2010, “After 27 years, Aspen time capsule location remains unknown.” Apparently, no one knows for sure where the time capsule is located!

The grounds where the time capsule was buried has changed hands and improvements made to the area have possibly changed the landscape enough to make locating the time capsule difficult. Additionally, any documentation detailing the exact location of the time capsule seems to be missing. Regardless, the current owners do not want people haphazardly digging all over their land.

So long story short, there is a piece of Apple and Steve Jobs history buried in Aspen, Colorado. And no one seems to know exactly where it is. Making it yet another “lost” piece of Steve Jobs lore.

iDCA Time Capsule
This is the time capsule that holds an Apple Lisa mouse donated by Steve Jobs – Photo courtesy of John Celuch, Inland Design

Awesome Story. Many thanks to Marcel for his research and posts.

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