Monthly Archives: April 2012

Back to the Future — In honor of Encyclopedia Britannica giving up its print edition

In 1981 Alan Kay asked me to join him at Atari to continue my work on the idea of an Intelligent Encyclopedia. In order to explain what we were doing to the executives at Warner which owned Atari, I developed these scenarios of how the (future) encyclopedia might be used and commissioned Glenn Keane, a well-known Disney animator to render them. The most interesting thing for me today about these images is that although we foresaw that people would access information wirelessly (notice the little antenna on the device in the “tide pool” image, we completely missed the most important aspect of the network — that it was going to connect people to each other.

Children in the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History carry Intelligent Encyclopedia’s with headphones around instead of audiotape players. Interactive simulations of dinosaur life from the IE are running on the wall monitors.
dinosaur Atari.jpg

A father reminisces with his son about ’60’s Rock and Roll, calling up footage from the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show from the Intelligent Encyclopedia

rock_and_roll_dad Atari.jpg

A vintner in northern California wonders what would be involved in changing wine production to sake. On horseback he is asking the Intelligent Encyclopedia about soil and water requirements for growing rice.

rancher_on_horse Atari.jpg

An earthquake wakes a couple in the middle of the night. The Intelligent Encyclopedia, connected to an online service informs them of the severity of the earthquake and makes safety tips readily available.

earthquake Atari.jpg

A third grade class studies various aspects of space travel. The group on the right is running a simulation of a Mars landing while the students on the left are studying a design for a spacecraft.

classroom Atari.jpg

A business man on his way to New York, reviews stockmarket trends.

businessman_on_plane Atari.jpg

In a bar, the two men at the right are watching football on the screen and running what-if simulations on the countertop Intelligent Encyclopedia which second guess the quarterback. The couple on the left is taking an on-the-spot course in wine connoisseurship.

bar_games Atari.jpg

An architect in New York studies Japanese motif for a project he’s working on, while a teacher in Toyo talks with her class about western architectural styles.

architect and teacher Atari.jpg

A mother and her children looking into a tidepool in Laguna ask the Intelligent Encyclopedia about the plants and animals that they see. [Notice the antenna for cellular communication.]

tidal pool atari.jpg