Predicting Touch Screens And Tablets, In 1984

From the TED Radio Hour, MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte shares prescient technology predictions he made in a 1984 TED talk.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Time now for an idea worth spreading from the TED Radio Hour. The future, writer William Gibson once remarked, is not Googleable. But that doesn't make it unknowable. Here's host Guy Raz.

GUY RAZ, BYLINE: At the first ever TED Conference way back in 1984, Nicholas Negroponte, who would go on to found the MIT Media Lab the following year, made some predictions about the future.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

NICHOLAS NEGROPONTE: I'm very interested in touch-sensitive displays. And a lot of people think fingers are a very low-resolution sort of stylus; in fact they're not. You have to just do it sort of twice. You have to sort of touch the screen and then rotate your finger slightly and you can move a cursor with great accuracy.

RAZ: Again, this was 1984. Fingers on a screen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

NEGROPONTE: The one advantage is you don't have to pick them up. People don't realize how important that is - not having to pick up your fingers to use them. The...

RAZ: OK. So, fast-forward more than 20 years - 2007. The best smartphones still needed a stylus to operate their touchscreens. Until...

(SOUNDBITE OF 2007 MACWORLD CONVENTION)

STEVE JOBS: Oh, a stylus, right? We're going to use a stylus? No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

JOBS: No. Who wants a stylus? You have get and put them away and you lose them. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus.

RAZ: Steve Jobs, introducing the iPhone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

NEGROPONTE: And another advantage, of course, of using fingers is you have 10 of them, and...

RAZ: It's almost as if Steve Jobs had been there with Nicholas Negroponte in that auditorium that day in 1984.

(SOUNDBITE OF 2007 MACWORLD CONVENTION)

JOBS: We're going to use the best pointing device in the world. We're going to use a pointing device that we're all born with - we're born with 10 of them - we're going to use our fingers.

RAZ: Nicholas made an astounding number of predictions in that 1984 TED talk - predictions that all came true.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

NEGROPONTE: Where we're trying to use computer and video disc technology now to come up with a new kind of book... A teleconferencing system where you had five people in teleconference such that each one was utterly convinced that the other four were physically present... A very recent experiment that we've been doing, in this case in Senegal, we have tried to use computers as a pedagogical medium...

RAZ: Computers in classrooms, Skype video calls, the Kindle - the question is how? How did he know?

NEGROPONTE: One of the few advantages of age when you talk about the future is that you've been there so many times. So, when people tell me things like, well, paper books will exist forever: rubbish. I know that. And, you know, these things do come back again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Nicholas Negroponte, speaking to NPR's Guy Raz. More predictions this weekend on the TED Radio Hour. This is NPR News.

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