For this episode, I’m going to handle things a bit differently. There was only a single guest–Stanford University computer science professor Edward Feigenbaum–and the subject is one that, quite frankly, does not strike me as all that interesting. So rather than do an extended point-by-point recap of the episode, I’m just going to summarize in broad strokes. Trust me, if you had watched the episode, you’d thank me. Stanford Professor Discusses AI, Future of Japanese Computing Initiative You may recall that Feigenbaum appeared in an earlier episode, which I recapped in Part 20.
This next Computer Chronicles episode focuses squarely on people rather than products. The formal subject is “computer entrepreneurs.” And the four guests are people who were all quite well known in the computer industry during the early 1980s. What’s fascinating, as we’ll see a bit later, is that two of the guests had ventures that each managed to flame out not long after this episode aired. “I Had Been Working My Whole Life to Build a Certain Type of Computer for Myself.
Personal computers of the early 1980s were often limited to just a few colors for on-screen graphics. The Apple IIe, for example, could display up to 16 colors at one time depending on the screen resolution. And of course, no home computer of this era could produce genuine 3D graphics. That capability was limited to very high-end machines designed for industrial or commercial use. The Special Talents of Computer Graphics Which brings us to our next Computer Chronicles episode from 1984.
When Apple released the Macintosh–later known as the Macintosh 128K–in January 1984, its main selling point was the graphical user interface (GUI). Although the original Macintosh operating system’s GUI was largely based on what Apple deployed on the Lisa a year earlier, the company believed the new machine’s lower price point would make the interface more accessible to a larger audience. Of course, the Macintosh was not exactly cheap, even by 1984 personal computer standards.
In Part 16, we saw a demonstration of Apple Logo, a computer programming language promoted as an alternative to BASIC. This next episode of The Computer Chronicles features another version of Logo–this one developed and sold by co-host Gary Kildall’s Digital Research–as well as a broader discussion of the state of computer programming languages around early 1984. The other languages presented in this episode–COBOL, Forth, and Pascal–are still in use today, even if they are not necessarily at the top of the Stack Overflow survey of most popular programming languages.
Today, Python is probably the most popular computer programming language taught in elementary and secondary schools. (There’s even a terrific podcast, Teaching Python, on this subject.) But back in the 1980s, BASIC was the language of choice for many introductory computer classrooms. Specifically, versions of Microsoft BASIC came with many popular 8-bit microcomputers, including the Apple II and Commodore 64, which were also commonly used in schools at the time.
Even if you’re only a casual gamer, there are probably a few video game designers whose names you’re familiar with, such as Sid Meier, Todd Howard, and Shigeru Miyamoto. From the early days of computer gaming, there was a concerted effort to promote certain “superstar” designers to help personalize and sell games to the public. This next episode of The Computer Chronicles featured three such designers from the early 1980s, as well as an executive whose name would become synonymous with computer and video game production in the decades that followed.
In a bit of eerie foreshadowing, this episode of The Computer Chronicles from January 1984 opened with a discussion of a global pandemic. Not a real one, of course, but a computer simulation. Stewart Cheifet and Gary Kildall played with a game called Epidemic, released by Strategic Simulations. Cheifet explained this was an example of how someone could use a computer to choose among alternatives, make a decision, and establish a complex strategy for solving a problem.
The episode I’m covering today taped on January 18, 1984, which was four days before Super Bowl XVIII. That game would go down in computing history for the famous Apple “1984” commercial that announced the launch of the original Macintosh (later known as the Macintosh 128K). As this Chronicles episode aired the week after the Super Bowl, Stewart Cheifet devoted a good portion of the post-show “Random Access” segment to the new machine and what it might mean for Apple for the rest of 1984.
Some early episodes of The Computer Chronicles were apparently repackaged as The Computer Chronicles Telecourse. Today’s episode was part of that telecourse and includes a series of interstitial segments hosted by SRI International’s Herbert Lechner, whom we met in the first broadcast episode. Lechner’s segments mostly review the key concepts discussed in the regular episode and refer to an accompanying textbook for students to follow. I’ve been unable to learn much about this telecourse or what it included.