The PLATO@50 Conference marked the semicentennial of the computer system that was the forerunner of today's social media and interactive education.
The following letter was published as a Letter to the Editor in the October 2010 CACM (http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2010/10/99482).
The name "PLATO" in "Celebrating the Legacy of PLATO" by Kirk L. Kroeker (Aug. 2010) triggered my own memories from the early 1970s when I was researching a technology called two-way cable television, whereby interactive broadband services would be possible by blending computers and communications systems. I eventually published Talk-Back TV: Two-Way Cable Television (Tab Books, 1976), including an overview of the PLATO system.
I was reminded I had good things to say about the system, including about its plasma-panel display. But in considering PLATO as something that would work in a two-way-television environment, I suggested there would be a problem putting it onto a cable-television network because ordinary televisions could not do many things plasma panels could do. Leaving wiggle room, I added that PLATO researchers had produced considerable material that would work with ordinary CRTs.
Kroeker quoted Brian Dear saying PLATO was a computer system focused on connecting people and an excellent predictor of how the Internet would evolve. Maybe so, but the same could be said about technology being developed or envisioned as "two-way cable television" at the time.
In the same way an exploration of PLATO's history could "enrich everyone's overall perspective" of today's interactive, networked technologies, so, too, could a look back at visions of interactive broadband originally conjured 40 years ago.
Richard H. Veith
Port Murray, NJ
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