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Let me summarize the four stages that occurred in this transportation revolution. First, the technology was initially desirable to only a small part of the public. With time, conditions improved and the technology conquered society. Then it began to change society. In the process, society began to change the technology. The direction of this change was away from the pragmatic and towards the recreational. Let us now examine the second great revolution of this century, the entertainment revolution sparked by the television. When television first became available in the late 1940 s, it was expensive, unreliable, and lacking sufficient software (programs) to make it anything more than a toy for the wealthy. With time, these problems were overcome. Televisions became cheaper, more reliable, and offered more programming. They swept into society with great force. In the process, they dramatically changed the lifestyles of the American people. Nighttime entertainment was now readily available. Leisure time activities changed accordingly. But the public worked its will on television. It evolved from "visible radio", or a means of presenting lectures, plays, and speeches, into a medium with its own personality. Thus, the same four stages outlined for the automobile occurred with television: pioneer, conquest, transformation of society by the technology, and transformation of the technology by society. The same sequence of stages is occurring with computers. At the moment, personal computers are still expensive, unreliable, hard to use, and lacking software. The situation is changing rapidly; prices are failing, machines are becoming friendlier, and software availability improves daily. All observers agree that personal computers will take society by storm. The only differences of opinion are those of magnitude. Will 1990 see 5 million computers in American homes, or 10 million, or 20 million No one knows, but everyone agrees that the figure will be large. We therefore expect that personal computers will change the face of American society. We expect that networking will allow more Americans to participate in economic activities from the home, decreasing the load on transportation and accelerating the pace of economic life. The ease of manipulating information will give information an even more prominent role in our society. Our financial system will become less dependent on currency. Our lives will be changed by these machines. But we ourselves will not be changed. The computer will change our habits and our leisure time, but it will not change our personalities, for emotionally we are still the same people who built the pyramids, fought the Crusades, and colonized the New World. Our analysis of the two previous revolutions leads us to expect that the relationship between society and the computer will be one of reciprocal transformation. We further expect that the nature of this transformation will be a shift from the pragmatic toward the recreational, from the functional to the frivolous. This leads us to suspect games as the primary vehicle for society to work its will on computers. Ten years ago, even five years ago, this suggestion would have seemed ridiculous. Computers were the awesome creatures of man s cleverness, the intelligent progeny of the machine age. They were
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perceived to be powerful, endlessly capable, and not a little fearsome. Most people s only concern with computers was whether they would be man s slave or his master. The possibility that they might be his playmate never crossed anyone s mind. We were wrong, for the computer game has already established itself as a primary form of use of the computer. By any number of measures, computer games are already a major portion of the world of computers. Consider, for example, the number of computer games in existence. What is the most reproduced program in human history, the one program with more copies in existence than any other program in the world At the moment, the #1 program is undoubtedly COMBAT, the game cartridge supplied with every ATARI 2600. Millions and millions of copies of this cartridge have been distributed. Perhaps you object that this measure is unfair because nobody buys the program by itself. Very well, then, consider PAC-MAN, ASTEROIDS, SPACE INVADERS, and MISSILE COMMAND, each of which has sold millions of copies. Indeed, were we to compile a "Top Forty" lit of the best-selling programs of all time, I very much doubt that Visicalc (trademark of Visicorp) or any serious piece of software would make the list. Games dominate. Perhaps you object that numbers alone do not adequately measure social significance. Perhaps you would prefer to measure economic significance. Very well, let s try a comparison. Visicalc, the most successful personal computer serious package, has sold, say, 400,000 copies at, say, $200 apiece. That amounts to $80 million gross. By contrast, if Atari sells, say, 5 million copies of PAC-MAN at $30 apiece, that s $150 million. And that s just one title; there are many other games generating large sales figures. Thus, games are already a primary form of use of computer technology. They have established themselves as a major component in the world of computers. In the accelerated world of the 80 s, the fourth stage (transformation of technology by society) is upon us even as the second phase (conquest) is beginning.
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