Steve Jobs' 1983 21st century technology speech (Full Transcription)

From the International Design Conference in Aspen in 1983

(Filled-pauses such as 'uhm' included for completeness of the transcription)
(Credit goes to Steve Jobs for the amazing speech, and please cite this post if you use this transcription, thanks!)

Steve Jobs:

G' morning-- Introductions are pretty funny.. They paid me sixty dollars so I wore a tie. (Audience Laughter)

Um, how many people.. how many of you are 36 years... older than 36 years old?
Yeah, you were born pre-computer. The computer is 36 years old.
And there's something sort of, I think that that, there's going to be a little slice in the timeline of history as we look back. A pretty meaningful slice right there.

Uhm, a lot of you are products of the television generation. I'm pretty much a product of the television generation. But to some extent, starting to become a product of the computer generation and the kids grown up now are definitely products of the computer generation.
And uh, in their lifetime, the computer will become the predominant medium.. of communication just as the television took over from the radio uh took over from even the book.

Um, well I'll talk about anything you want to talk about today, I've got about 15 to 20 minutes of stuff that I just wanted to cover really quickly and then, whatever you want to talk about, we can talk about. How's that? Ok?

How many of you own an Apple? Or just any personal, computer? Uh oh. (Audience Laughter)
How many of you have used one or seen one? Anything.. like that? Good! Ok!

Let's start off with what is a computer. What is a computer.
It's really simple. It's just a simple machine. But it's a new type of machine. Uh, The gears, the pistons have been replaced with electrons.

How many of you have ever seen an electron? That's the problem with computers. Is that you can't get your hands on the actual things that are moving around, you can't see them, so they.. tend to be very intimidating because in a very small space, there's billions of electrons running around and we can't really get a hold on-on exactly what they look like. Computers are very adaptive, it's a very adaptive machine. We can move the electrons around differently to different places. Depending upon the current state of affairs. The result of the last time we moved the electrons around.

So if you were here last night, and you heard about the brain and how it's very adaptive computers are in the same way, very very adaptive. Second thing about a computer, it's very new. It was invented 36 years ago in 1947. The world's first degree in computer science, offered by a university which was the university of California at Berkeley and it was a masters degree. Was offered in 1968 which means uh the oldest person that has a degree in computer science is 39 years old. and the average age of professionals at Apple is under 30. So it's a field that's dominated by fairly young people.

Third thing about computers, they're really dumb. They're exceptionally simple but they're really fast. The raw instructions that we have to feed these little microprocessors, even the raw instructions that we have to feed these big giant Cray-1 supercomputers, are the most trivial of instructions. They're: get some data from here. Get a number from here. Fetch a number. Add two numbers together. Test to see if it's bigger than 0, go put it over there. The most mundane thing you could ever imagine.

But. The key thing about it is, let's say I could move 100 times faster than anyone here. In the blink of your eye, I could run up there, and I could grab a bouquet of fresh spring flowers or something and I could run back in here and I could snap my fingers and you would all think I was a magician.. or something. And yet I was basically doing a series of really simple instructions, I was moving, running out there grabbing some flowers and running back snapping my fingers but I could just do them so fast that you would think that there was something magical going on.

It's the exact same way as the computer, this is the 'grab these numbers, add them together and throw them over here at a rate of about a million instructions per second.

And so we tend to think that there's something magical going on when in reality there's just a series of these simple instructions--now. What we do, is we take these very very simple instructions and we by building a collection of these things, build, a higher level instruction. So instead of saying "turn right" left-foot-right-foot- left-foot-right-foot, extend hand, grab flowers, run back-- I'd say: "Could you go get some flowers?" Could you pour a cup of coffee.

We have started in the last 20 years to deal with computers in higher and higher levels of abstraction but ultimately these levels of abstraction get translated down into these stupid instructions that run really fast.

Look at the brief history of computers. The best way to understand it is probably an analogy.

The electric motor was first invented in the late 1800's and when it was first invented it was only possible to build a very very large one. Which meant that it could only be cost justified for very large applications. And therefore, electric motors did not proliferate very fast at all. But the next breakthrough, was when somebody took one of these large electric motors and they ran a shaft through the middle of the factory and through a series of belts and pulleys, brought, shared the horsepower of this one electric motor to 15 to 20 medium sized workstations. Thereby allowing one electric motor to be cost justified on some medium scale tasks. And electric motors proliferated even further then.

But the real breakthrough was the invention of the fractional horsepower electric motor. We could then bring the horsepower directly to where it was needed and cost justify it on a totally individual application and I think there's about 55 or so fractional horsepower motors now in every household.

If we look at the development of computers, we see a real parallel. The first computer is called the ENIAC in 1947. It was developed particularly for ballistic, for military calculations. It was giant. Hardly anyone got a chance to use it. The real breakthrough, the next real breakthrough was in the 60's. With the invention of what we call 'time sharing' and what we do is we took one of these very large computers and we shared it, since it could execute so many instructions so quickly. We'd run some on Fred's job over here, then we'd run some on Sally's job, then we'd run some on Don's job then we'd run on Susie's job. And we'd share this thing and it was so fast that everyone would think they had the whole computer to themselves.

Time sharing is what really started to proliferate computers in 60's and most of you could use computer terminals connected with some kind of umbilical cord to some large computer somewhere else. That's time sharing. That's what got computers on college campuses in large numbers. The reason Apple exists, is because we stumbled on to fractional horsepower computing 5 years before anybody else. That's the reason we exist. We took these microprocessor chips, which is sort of a computer on a chip, and we surrounded it with all the other stuff you need to interact with a computer and we made a computer that was about 13 pounds. And people would look at it and say "Well, where's the computer, that's just the terminal" and we'd say "that IS the computer". And after about 5 minutes of repeating this, finally a light bulb would come on in their minds and they decided if they didn't like it they could throw it out the window or run over it with their car. But this was the entire computer.

That's why we exist. Fractional horsepower computing.

Fractional horsepower computing, has created a revolution. It was invented in 1976, the first personal computer. This year in 1983, the industry is going to ship over 3 million of the little buggers. 3 million. By 1986 we're going to ship more computers than automobiles in this country. And let me digress for a minute.

One of the reasons I'm here, is because I need your help. If you look at computers, they look like garbage. All the great, product designers are off designing automobiles or off designing buildings but hardly any of them are designing computers. And if we take a look, uhm, we're going those 3 million computers this year! We're going to sell those 10 million computers in 86. Whether they look like a piece a shit or they look great.

It doesn't really matter because people just suck this stuff up so fast that they're going to do it no matter what it looks like. And it doesn't cost any more money to make it look great.

They're going to be these objects, these new objects that are going to be in everyone's working environment. And is going to be in everyone's educational environment. And is going to be in everyone's home environment. And we have a shot at putting a GREAT object there. Or if we don't, we're going to put one more piece of junk object there. By nine... 86-87, pick a year, people are going to be spending more time interacting with these machines than they do interacting with their big automobile machines today.

People are going to be spending, two, three hours a day sometimes interacting with these machines.. Longer than they spend in a car.

And so, industrial design, the software design and how people interact with these things certainly must be given the consideration that we give automobiles today if not a lot more.

And if you take a look, what we've got, we've got a situation where most of the automobiles are not being designed in the United States-- Europe, Japan. Televisions, audio electronics, watches, cameras, bicycles, calculators-- you name it. Most of the objects of our life are not designed in America.

We've blown it.

We've blown it from an industrial point of view because we've lost the market from the point of competitors. We've lost from the design point of view. And I think we have a chance, focusing on this new computing technology. Meeting people in the 80's.

The fact that computers and society are out on a first date in the 80's. We have a chance to make these thing beautiful, and we have a chance to communicate something. Through the design of the objects themselves. In addition to that, we're going to spend over 100 million dollars in the next 12 months on media advertising.

Apple alone. IBM will spend at least an equivalent amount. And we generate 10's of millions of dollars worth of brochures and posters. More than the auto industry, again, and in comparison. And this stuff can either be great or it can be lousy. And we need help.

We really really need your help.

Ok let's go back to this revolution, what is happening? What's happening is the personal computer is a medium-- of communication. One of the medium. So what's a medium? It's a technology communication. A book is a medium. Telephone. Radio. Television. These are mediums of communication. And each medium has pitfalls to it, it has shortcomings, has boundaries which you can't cross. But it also, generally, has some new unique opportunities.

The neat thing, is that each medium shapes not only the communication that goes through it but it shapes the process of the communication. Perfect example: if you compare the telephone with what we're seeing if you link a bunch of computers together and we can send messages to an electronic mailbox, which people can then receive-- at their leisure.

We see that, indeed, in one sense we're sending voice through these wires and in one sense we're sending 1's and 0's through these wires so the content that's traveling through the medium is certainly different. The most interesting thing that's different.. is the process of communication. When I talk on a telephone with anyone, we both have to be on the phone at the same time. When I'm working, or when I want to send something to somebody with a computer terminal. I want to do a drawing and zip it over and put it in their mailbox. They don't need to be there. They can retrieve it at 12 AM in the morning, they can retrieve it 3 days later. They can be in New York and retrieve it.

One of these days when we have portable computers with radio links they can be walking around aspen and retrieve it. And so the process of communication itself changes, as the mediums evolve. So what I'm claiming is that computers are a medium and if personal computers are a new and different medium from large computers.

What happens when a new medium enters the scene, is that we tend to fall back into old media habits. And let's look at a few transitions. From one medium to another.

From radio to television, television to this incredible new interactive medium of the video disc. If you go back and you look at our first television shows, they were basically radio shows with a television camera pointed at them. And it took us the better part of the 50's to really understand how television was going to come into its own as its own medium and I really think the first time that a lot of people were shook into realizing that television had come into age was the JFK funeral. The nation, a lot of the world experienced the JFK funeral in their living room and at a level of intensity that wouldn't have been possible with radio.

And another, more upbeat example was the Apollo landing. That experience was not possible with the previous medium and yet it took us the better part of 20 years for that one to really evolve.

Let's look at the next transition, we have this optical video disc, which can store 55,000 images on one side. Or an hour of video, randomly accessible. What are we using it for? Movies.

We're dropping back into the old media habits. There's a few experiments that are starting to happen and you start to believe that 5 year, 10 years from now it's going to come into its own. A neat experiment happened right here in Aspen. MIT came out to Aspen about 4-5.. I think about 4 years ago. And they had this truck with this camera on it. And they went down every single street, and photographed every single intersection. And every single street in Aspen. And they photographed all the buildings. And they got this computer and this video disc hooked together and on the screen you see yourself looking down a street. And you touch the screen and there are some arrows on the screen.. and you touch 'walk forward'.

And all the sudden, it's just like you're walking forward in the street. And you get to an intersection and you get to stop. And you can look right, and you can look straight and you can look left. And you can decide which way you want to go. You can even go in some of the shops!

It's an electronic map, that gives you the feeling that you're walking through Aspen.

Then there's 4 little buttons in the corner, because they came back, and they did exactly the same thing in all four seasons. So you can be looking down a street, hit 'winter' and all of the sudden, you get the same street with 3 feet of snow on it.

It's really amazing! That's not incredibly useful! But it poin... (crowd laughter) it points to some of the interactive nature of this new medium which is just starting to break out from movies it's just going to take another 5 to 10 years to evolve.

OK let's go back to computers.

We're in the I Love Lucy stage right now in our medium development. What we did was microcomputers, personal computers, first one on the scene. What do we do? We fall back into old media habits, we run these languages like Cobol and business accounting on them. That's the kind of stuff we have been doing on them historically. It took us about 4 years before we started breaking out of that. And we're just starting to break out of it now.

When you look at Lisa, Lisa enables a person like me-- I'm not an artist in the sense that many of you are-- but I can sit down and I can draw artistic pictures with that thing. Because there's a program called Lisa Draw. And if I don't like what I've just drawn, I can erase it, I can move it, I can shrink it, I can grow it, I can change its texture. There's a little airbrush and the more I scrub the darker it gets. I can put soft edges on things, hard edges on things. And so I-- I have no talent at drawing at all, can make me draw. Then I can cut 'em out and paste them into my documents so that I can combine pictures and words. Then I can send it on the electronic mailbox on to somebody else that's living here in Aspen.. can dial up a phone number and get their mail and see this drawing that I made.

So we're starting to break out.. And you can just see it now. And it's really exciting.

So where we are, is that the personal computer is a new medium. And that society and computers are really meeting for the first time in the 80's. In 15 years, it's going to be all over.. In terms of this first phase. Getting these tools out into society in large numbers. But during this 15 years if we really-- we have an opportunity to do it great or to do it so-so. And uh, what a lot of us at Apple are working on, is trying to do it great.

I want to look at one last thing, then we can talk about whatever you guys want to talk about.

What is a computer program. Do you know what a computer program is? Anybody? No? Sorta? Sorta. It's an odd thing. It's really an odd thing. You can't-- you've never seen an electron but computer programs have no physical manifestation at all. They're simply ideas, expressed on paper. Computer programs are archetypal, what do I mean by that.

Let's compare computer programming to television programming.

Again, if you go back and you look at the tapes of the JFK funeral in 1963 (something muffled), you'll start to cry. You will feel a lot of the same feelings you felt when you were watching that 20 years ago. Why? Because through the art of television programming, we are very good at capturing a set of experiences. AN experience. 2 experiences. 20 experiences. And being able to recreate them. We're very good at that. It takes a lot of money, and it's somewhat it's somewhat limited but we can do a pretty good job of that. You can really feel the excitement of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.

Computer programming does something a little different. What computer programming does, is it captures the underlying principles of an experience. Not the experience its self but the underlying principals of the experience. And those principals, can enable thousands of different experiences that all follow those laws if you will.

And the perfect example is the video game. What does a video game do?

It follows the laws of gravity, of angular momentum, and it sets up this stupid little Pong game!

But the ball, ALWAYS follows these laws. No two Pong games are ever the same. And yet every single Pong game follows these underlying principals.

Give you another example. The neat program called Hammurabi. And Hammurabi, there's 7 year old kids playing this. And it's a game and you-- it comes up on the screen goes-- and you're King Hammurabi-- it goes. Oh King Hammurabi! You get to be old King Hammurabi of the ancient kingdom of [unintelligible] for 10 years. Old King Hammurabi, this is year 1. You have a 1000 bushels of wheat in storage, you have 100 people, you have 100 acres of land. Land is trading at 24 bushels an acre. Would you like to sell any land? No. Would you like to buy any land? No. How much would you like to plant-- or feed-- how much would you like to plant? And it turns out, that if you don't plant enough, some of your people will starve in the next year. And if you plant a lot, then people will come from the surrounding villages cause you've got a hot village to live in, you'd feed them right. So you plant-- you plant a certain amount. But you ea--- then it says uhm-- how much? I'm sorry. So you feed your people a certain amount then it asks you: how much would you like to plant? And you have to plant so much as well, in order to get the grain the next year. But you can't plant more acres, than you have people to plant the acres. So if you go on a land buying spree at the beginning and you don't feed your people well 'cause you spent all your grain buying land, then you don't have the people to plant the land so it doesn't do you any good. If you don't plant the land, and you feed your people a ton, all these other people come from the surrounding villages, but they starve the next year.

And there are these 7 year olds-- then it goes on-- year two, year three and every once in a while, it throws some rats eat some of the grain and you're in deep trouble what are you going to do. Kill some people, or sell some land or whatever. And it's crude, but basically there are these 7 year old kids playing with this macro-economic model. And you can argue about the-the-the context of the model, but one thing you can't argue about. they will sit there for hours and play that and learn.

And we've gotta get our models better and more sophisticated but that is an interactive world of learning that none of us ever had when were growing up. And again. Thousands of individual experiences but all based on that one set of underlying principals.

When I was um, going to school-- I had a few great teachers and a lot of mediocre teachers. And the thing that probably kept me out of jail was books. Because I could go and read what Aristotle wrote or what Plato wrote. Ok? And I didn't have to have an intermediary in the way. And a book was a phenomenal thing. It got right from the source to the destination without anything in the middle.

The problem was, you can't as Aristotle questions.

When I think, as we look to the next 50-100 years, if we really can come up with these machines that can capture an underlying spirit or an underlying set of principals or an underlying way of looking at the world.. then when the next Aristotle comes around... what if he carries one of these machines around with him his whole life. His or her whole life. And types in all his stuff.

Maybe some day after the persons dead and gone.. we can ask this machine: Hey, what would Aristotle have said? What about this? And maybe we won't get the right answer.

But maybe we will.

And that's really exciting to me. And that's one of the reasons that I'm doing what I'm doing.

So what do you wanna talk about? (Vigorous applause)

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