Cloud Computing Circa 1963

Well – what’s old is new again. Dave Jilk – my first business partner and CTO of Standing Cloud – sent me this magnificent video on 1963 Timesharing: A Solution to Computer Bottlenecks where MIT Professor Fernando Corbato explains how timesharing works to MIT Science Reporter John Fitch (who has one of those magnificent deep reporter voices).

Since history can be so incredibly instructive to reflect on when you think about the future of science.  If you draw a curve of “computer technology progress” from 1963 to 2010 after you watch this and then ponder the progress from 2010 to 2057 you will have a very interesting few moments of reflection.

The following quotes are approximate but they will give you enough sound bites to motivate you to watch it!

“Computers used to be unreliable – they managed to lick all of those problems” (2:00)

“The man machine interaction is very poor” (3:00)

“The computers are very expensive – they cost between 300 and 600 / hour” (3:30) – (BAF: Kind of like a lawyer today)

“It’s a little noisy out here (in the data center) – let’s go in my office so I can show you how it works from a remote terminal” (4:30)

“It looks like a typewriter” (5:00)

The moments of drawing on a blackboard to explain how a computer works (starting around 6:00) is priceless.

“Eventually we’d like to see graphical display but there are technical problems right now” (9:30)

“Wooo the chalk is a little soft” (12:30)

“The disk memories have been available for a year or so but most people haven’t figured out how to use them yet because they haven’t figured out how to keep things from getting mixed up” (16:30)

“I’m moderately familiar with the keyboard – we have to study how humans interact with the machines” (19:00)

Watching the interactive demo at about 20:00 is just wild.

“In the long run we will have increasing needs for computer time by a large amount” (25:00)

Singularity anyone?  Or not so much?

  • Brad,

    one historical clarification without taking away from Corby's accomplishments or any of the others that were part of Project MAC and MULTICS at MIT whose work was instrumental for where we are today. It was John McCarthy that is credited with first articulating the concept of Utility Computing, which can be viewed as the predecessor to Cloud Computing, while giving a lecture at MIT.

    "If computers of the kind I have advocated become the computers of the future, then computing may someday be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility… The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry." – John McCarthy, MIT Centennial in 1961

    Another video that Bob Frankston posted a link about Bob Fano a while back filmed around 1963.
    ( )

  • Yup – McCarthy was key to so much of the history.  And that quote from 1961 is just priceless.

  • Question – why has it taken so long to come about? When I worked with Silicon Valley Bank in 2000 – we funded a company that had a very good cloud computing business model (given the technology at the time) and this company dried up as fast as the Internet Bubble burst. In my opinion, this is what IBM should have doing all along instead of trying to put a deck top on very desk. Do you think, with the increase in mobile devices – this technology will supplant what most of us use today?

  • I think there is a continual evolution of this. I was the founder of an ASP (application service provider – remember those?) that was the version of this in the late 1900's (SaaS was the post bubble version).

    If you think of the progress as a step function instead of a continuous curve we are in for another great leap forward.

  • The reporter does have a magnificent voice, but that's what happens when you smoke a couple packs a day.

    Other than the smoking, I wouldn't have minded the days of wearing a tie every day.

  • Mike Greczyn

    The video is cool. However, I disagree vehemently with Scott's acceptance of tie wearing.

  • Mike Greczyn

    As far as a singularity is concerned, when you look at the pace of technology development and the inter-disciplinary work that is happening more and more in the spaces between technological specialties, there is a certain sense of inevitability around the idea. The question in my mind is to what extent can we make sure we get a "good" singularity rather than an "evil" one?

  • Dean Thrasher

    This is a great video about the early days of computing. It's amazing, given the speed and storage of today's computers, how little the fundamentals have changed.

    If you found this interesting, you ought to get a copy of Charles Petzold's book "Code." It traces the development of computers from the telegraph era up to the start of the Internet age.

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  • wooww supper video.. thanks…

  • Very cool. Amazing to see the progress since then. Great post. Happy DeLurking Day 2010.… …a few days late. I have you on my blog roll and lurk @ your blog often. i am going to try to get more into the dialogue this year with comments. I encourage you to do this same on my blog. Rock on.

  • Thanks for delurking – glad to have you as part of the conversation!

  • Also, I think the definition of “good” vs. “evil” will come into question.  For example, in some philosophical circles, the presence of humans on this planet are “more evil than good” and there are certainly substantial behaviors of humans that are “evil.” 

  • Just bought Code on Amazon – thanks!

  • sam shaw

    moors law isnt looking so promising after the next fifteen years or so. to many hurtles, hopefully we can rely on human enginuity to figure something out.

  • Pablo

    It's interesting to work in an industry where the first steps were actually filmed! No other industry can see videos of how it was being born.

  • Bill

    Wow, just found this. That was a great video. Prof. Corbato was my undergrad thesis advisor. The thesis was about, of course, the work I was doing on Multics at the time. He's a great guy.

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