The web is a great and wonderful thing. It was also apparently anticipated long before the tech existed to make it possible. Late last week Techdirt turned up the following demo video, which was made in 1973. It stars Ralph H. Baer, a video game console pioneer, and it shows off the great idea Ralph had after he invented the Magnavox Odyssey (first video game console).
This being 2012, I’m sure you’re used to doing everything from shopping to reading news to playing games online. Well, Ralph had a prototype set top box in 1973 which could many of today’s common online activities via your TV set. It worked with the existing cable TV system, not telephone (or one of the network systems which didn’t exist in 1973).
It’s a pretty cool video, and it shows how little tech is really needed to accomplish what we take for granted. I especially like the online pong demo. Not only did it exist long before I expected, the controller also has an option that most current versions of Pong lack. You can tilt the paddle so it changes the angle of the shot.
But now that I’ve seen it, I have to wonder who else saw it in the decades following its release? There’s a lot of SF that all of a sudden looks less visionary than before. For example, Robert Heinlein described a recognizable precursor to the web in his book Friday, and he even integrated the computer network into a couple plot points. That novel was published in 1982, 9 years after this demo video. I can’t help but think that RAH saw this video at an SF convention some time in the late 1970s.
It really makes you wonder if there really are any original ideas, doesn’t it?
Though if I wanted to be nitpicky, I’d point out that the idea for the web first appeared in an SF story from the 1909. EM Forster penned a tale called The Machine Stops. This story was set in future world where characters lived a life that bears a striking resemblance to the way a lot of people live right now. The main social interaction was online, and there was minimal in-person contact. The story was limited to technology which the readers and author could understand, so it doesn’t really grasp the tech involved. But the concepts were there.
It also stands as a warning about relying on machinery that you don’t know how to repair. Now that’s a story worth reading.