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Appendix: Electronic Book Technology

evolution of the personal computer has followed a path similar to that of the printed book, but in 40 years instead of 600.

Alan Kay in [29]

To understand the long-term threat to publishing paper books we need to understand some technology: computer memory, optical discs, memory cards, geosynchronous satellites, cellular radio, radio frequency modems, fiberoptic cable, electronic networks, flat-panel displays, portable computers, and desktop computers.

This appendix also supports claims made in the report that some apparently radical technology will not only be possible, it is almost inevitable. By sketching the demand and market for each piece of technology it also shows the computer industry's commitment to rapid change and it shows why this pace of change is inevitable. Personal computers are not yet as common as dishwashers, but that is only a few years away.

It is hard to grasp just how much computers have improved. Unlike any other technology ever, computers have improved 10 millionfold in the past 50 years [38]; in that time computers have gone from the lab to the lap. In 30 years computers shrank from houses, to cars, to refrigerators, to ovens, to microwave ovens, to record players, to large books, to magazines, to wallets. They have stopped at wallet size only because if they were any smaller humans could not use them; eventually they will accept voice input and could display output on the inside of a pair of sunglasses. In the far future they may move inside the human body.

Since 1971 the number of components on a chip has doubled every 16 to 18 months, and computers as a whole are now halving in price every 2 or 3 years. The present pace is expected to continue for at least 2 more decades; which means a further 10 millionfold improvement. And because computer technology is self-synergistic (better computers help us design and build better computers) the computers 10 years from now can be used to keep the self-improvement ball rolling.

The industry's watchwords are: smaller, lighter, faster, denser, stronger, cheaper. Unless something drastic happens, in 10 years powerful computers will be as easy to use as toasters, in 20 years they will be as common as pens, and in 30 years they will be as cheap as paper-clips.

next up previous contents
Next: Computer Memory Up: The New Publishing Technology's Previous: My Thanks
Gregory J. E. Rawlins