Personal computing: compuvision or teleputer

Historically, the computer and communication industries have been separate, although both worked with electronically encoded information and shared similar technology. The regulations that kept computing and communication apart began to crumble in 1956 when the FCC ruled that Hush-a-Phone could attach equipment to the AT&T network under special circumstances. In 1959 they opened a portion of the microwave spectrum, and the 1968 Carter-phone case allowed all kinds of equipment to be tied to the network. Today, IBM is in the communication business and AT&T markets computers, but many feel that the distinction among computing, communication, news, and entertainment industries will blur or disappear. The question is, who will lead the charge—the computer companies, entertainment companies, toy companies, or phone companies? To put it another way, will the home computer swallow up the television set or will the television set become a computer in disguise? Not surprisingly, computer companies and entertainment companies have different answers to this question, and the debate was brought into focus by announcements at the Fifth Microsoft International CD-ROM Conference and Exposition. Let us look at the question of the home computer versus the smart TV and then come back to some of the other interesting announcements at the show and the current state of multimedia applications.

Personal computing: simple complexity and COMDEX

One of today's emerging paradigms is the view that complex behavior or form can emerge from the interaction of relatively simple components, if you have enough of them and they have enough time to do whatever they do. The emergent behavior or form might seem systematic or chaotic. Some examples are neural nets, cellular automata, fractals, electronic mail networks, market economies, whirlpools, and snowflakes. Years ago, similar systems were often called self-organizing, and they were found in models of memory, pattern recognition, multilevel stores, and libraries. The area languished, however, awaiting the development of theory and powerful hardware. Personal workstations played an important role in facilitating experimentation and mass market personal computers are now up to the task.

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