Three years ago I put on a 2-day conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the PLATO system. Videos of all the sessions are available on YouTube at YouTube.com/platohistory.
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I also recall seeing the Plato system being shown off in a display at the Worlds Fair in Knoxville in 1982. I took a peek at the Wikipedia entry for the fair, and it notes that several new technologies were debuted at the fair, include touch screens. Follow the link to touch screens and there's a picture of our friend, the Plato V.
What everyone says is true: with the forms of chat and email that were prevalent, and things like the friday afternoon dogfights, the future of massively connected computing became "obvious". Based on what I saw then, I worked in computer networking after graduating from college, moved to silicon valley, and recently founded my own company building high speed distributed databases.
I bought my first computer over Plato: I found a guy in Illinois who had an older Xerox CP/M machine, we agreed to the price over email, I sent him the check and he sent me the machine. This would have been about '83.
When I'm on Wikipedia or some tutorial site, I still sometimes imagine myself looking at the same content in a futuristic monochrome view.
Plasma display technology was invented there.
There was a game called ANTWAR. You would be shown an army of enemy ants in a rectangle in a certain number of rows and columms. The trick was to multiply the rows and columns and choose the size your army to be exactly one more ant in number.
They don't let kids hang out in datacenters anymore. But kids have more interesting games at home anyway.
It's bizarre to think that in the dying days of apartheid there was already some faction of the government seduced by the promise of third-world techno-utopianism.
TA: This semester, we'll be talking about Aristotle, Descartes and Plato.
Engineer: We'll we be taking our tests on PLATO?
TA: Yes, we will have two midterms and a final and we will cover Plato.
Engineer: No, I mean will we be taking all our tests on the PLATO system.
TA: I don't know what you mean, but yes, you will be tested on Plato.
Engineer: No, I mean.
Me: The TA is talking about the philosopher Plato while Mr. Engineer is talking about an online testing computer called PLATO.
Rest of class, befuddled, me rolling my eyes.
I hated these dudes. Play on your own time, I gotta do another CircuitTutor unit.
CDC President William Norris planned to make PLATO a force in the
computer world, but found marketing the system was not as easy as
hoped. PLATO nevertheless built a strong following in certain markets, and
the last production PLATO system did not shut down until 2006,
*coincidentally* just a month after Norris died.
It was used by first year students for some tut work and by high school students from the surrounding area for maths courseware.
It was an interesting experiment and novelty but I don't think it fundamentally changed how the varsity did or approached it's teaching.
Yes, because the Internet is the Internet because it's a network of networks, all sharing the same protocols, all routing data among each other via gateways using packets. Networks existed before Arpanet, before PLATO, but it wasn't possible to cheaply interconnect networks and send messages end-to-end before TCP/IP.
Removing TCP/IP and the concept of the gateway from what it means to be the Internet doesn't mean PLATO is first. It means some even earlier computer network is first, and PLATO is still a footnote in the history of the Internet.