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The Computer Revolution

``You will have robot `slaves' by 1965.''

Mechanix Illustrated, cover, 1955

Whatever happened to the computer revolution? If you asked almost anybody in the computer business in the 1960's and early 1970's to project the consequences of the price of computing power falling four orders of magnitude, they would almost universally have seen the introduction of computers into almost every aspect of life. Clearly, every home would have one or more computers, and computers would be used to communicate, write, read, draw, shop, bank, and perform numerous other tasks.

This was the ``computer revolution'': sales of computers in the hundreds of millions, with their diffusion throughout society making an impact on the same scale as that of the automobile, television, or the telephone. This forecast was so universally shared that all of the major players in the game bet on it and polished their strategies to end up with a chunk of the market. But in this revolution, something funny happened on the way to the barricades.

After an initial burst, sales of computers into the home market have slowed dramatically, to the extent that the companies that concentrate on home computers and software are considered pariahs. Penetration of computers into the office has been much slower than many projections, and the promises of networks and the ``universal workstation'' remain largely unfulfilled. The current dismal climate in the semiconductor and computer industries is a consequence of this. This despite the fact that the computer revolution has technically succeeded; now for a price affordable by virtually every family in the country, and by every business for every employee, one can buy a computer that can be used for communication, reading, writing, drawing, shopping, banking, and more. But they aren't selling.

Editor: John Walker