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Apple’s Steve Jobs: What He Knew in 1983

The Exchange

Almost a year to the day after his death, Apple (AAPL) co-founder Steve Jobs is making headlines for a speech he gave nearly three decades ago. Not just any speech, either, but one in which he did a pretty impressive job of describing the gadget-mad world we now live in.

Steve Jobs and others from Apple, 1984. Credit: AP

The 1983 talk, which Jobs, then 28, gave in Aspen, Colo., was posted on the blog Life, Liberty, and Technology, and it provides a fascinating look at how he envisioned technology evolving in the years ahead. Parts of the speech came to light earlier this year -- see AppleInsider.com for more -- but now we're getting access to the question and answer session that followed his remarks, for what's said to be the first time since he actually gave them.

In addition to making it clear that Jobs, even at young age, was well spoken, confident and passionate about consumer technology, the remarks stand as something of a time capsule, serving as a reminder of the days long before Facebook (FB), before multiple computers were in every home on your block and before technology was a constant in our daily lives.

Many of his thoughts certainly came true, but it's important to remember that Jobs wasn't simply a futurist observing from the sidelines. He was someone who headed up major technology endeavors his entire adult life, running Apple, starting NeXT and being heavily involved in Pixar when it was first independent, so he was in a position to influence the development of some of these ideas in a very real way.

And no, he wasn't the only technology visionary the world has known. Not all of the topics he covers are unique to him -- ARPANet went online in the late 1960s, and Paul Otlet was dreaming of a networked planet in the 1930s -- but he was without question one of the tech giants. It's a treat and an education to hear him speak about the personal computer, especially at a time when it was used almost exclusively by businesses and academics.

[Steve Jobs 1983 speech: Click for the entire recording.]

Among the comments from the speech and Q&A (the question-and-answer session starts about 21 minutes in) are the following:

  • "The kids growing up now are definitely a product of the computer generation, and in their lifetimes the computer will become the predominant medium of communications."
  • Jobs talked about email, which didn't exist in the home in 1983, as being a terrific system that would allow you to retrieve messages at a time and place of your choosing. "One of these days when we have portable computers with radio links, [people] can be walking around Aspen and retrieve it."
  • "Ultimately a computer is going to be a tool for communication," he said, indicating that he believed many computers soon would be hooked together by various communities around common purposes.
  • In discussing networked computers at Xerox (XRX) and its local-area network, he described how distribution lists evolved around volleyball, food and other interests among the workers. "It was a very, very interesting phenomenon. Because I think that's exactly what's going to happen … is that as we start to tie these things together, they're going to facilitate communication and facilitate bringing people together in the special interests that they have."
  • Jobs predicted that the world was about five years away from having networking in the office and around 10 to 15 years from seeing networked homes. Many people were working on making it a reality, but it was a "pretty fierce problem," he said.
  • He noted that Apple's Lisa computers at the time were going for $10,000 apiece, out of reach for most regular people, but that demand from offices was extremely strong. He also forecast future price points, including the day when computers would be smaller and go for $2,500, then get even smaller and cost under $1,000. The Lisa predated the first of Apple's Macintosh computers.
  • Programmers and other computer workers are "a lot closer to artists than they are to anything else."
  • Finally, for the iPad fans, he gave a nod to the tablets that are now all over the place. "We want to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you carry around with you, and you can learn how to use in 20 minutes." This computer, he said, would have a "radio link" that would allow a user to be free from wires while using the device. He said Apple wanted to have such a device before the decade was out, but he acknowledged the substantial technological difficulties.

If you want to see other predictions from Apple, check out this video, via YouTube, from the 1980s.