How Printers Change Our Lifes: The Past and The Future

Most of people remind printers when they hear about the Xerox. Actually, that would not be incorrect to say a well known printer company triggered the most of developments in  the information age.

Although, Steve Jobs said “Since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.” in his Stanford Speech, graphical user interface was first developed at Xerox PARC in 1975. Windowing, icons, pop-up menus and pointing device (mouse) exist also opening and moving files are supported in Xerox Alto.

Apple engineers have visited the Xerox Lab in 1979. Steve Jobs was a member of the team. He has already declared the following statements about Xerox Lab visit in his interview for Triumph of the nerds in 1995.

They (Xerox) showed me really three things. But I was so blinded by the first one that I didn’t even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object oriented programming. They showed me that but I didn’t even see that. The other one they showed me was a networked computer system. They had over a hundred Alto computers all networked using email. I didn’t even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen in my life.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs

Debate between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates supports the influence of Xerox on modern computers. Jobs accuses Gates to steal ideas from Apple. Then, Gates coolly responds the following statement.

Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.

Consequently, Xerox PARC is accepted to influence development of all personal computer interfaces. However, that’s not the only contribution of Xerox and its engineers to computer science world.

Alan Kay is a pioneer engineer of the research team who developed the first graphic based computer Xerox Alto. People who attended human computer interaction lesson would most probably be familiar with the name of Alan Kay.

Alan Kay

Moreover, Alan Kay is the father of the object oriented programming concept. He created a language named as Smalltalk enabling programs to be developed without being entirely rewriten in 1972. Actually, objects are emulated by biological cells and they can only communicate with messages in his though. Today, most modern programming languages are designed based on this principle. Funnily, Alan Kay said that he invented the term object oriented and he didn’t have C++ in his mind.

Also, Alan Kay conceived the first portable computer in 1968 as an educational device for children and named it Dynabook. It is designed to be weighed no more than two pounds (1 kg). That’s also the first prototype of tablet computer in history.

Dynabook Illustration based on Alan Kay’s Own Drawing

Today, printers still continue to trigger challenging developments, especially in health sector. The difference from the past is having ability to print in 3rd dimension.

A 3D printer that using living cells to produce transplantable kidney is demonstrated on TED Talk. Printing process lasts about 7 hours. Today, dialysis treatment could cost between 55K – 75K dollars per year. The cost of a 3D printed kidney is recorded as 280K dollars in 2013. Also, price of a 3D printed kidney is thought to cost less than 120K dollars in 2030. This means dialysis will be no longer in near future.

Anthony Atala holds 3D printed kidney during his TED Talk (2011)

Moreover, there are examples applied in practice today. For instance, 3D printed ribcage is implanted to a 54-year-old Spanish cancer patient in 2015. It costs 1.3M dollars.

3D printed ribs in world first surgery transplanted to a cancer patient

Furthermore, a prosthetic hand can currently cost between 35K – 115K dollars. Open hand project aims to reduce the cost of prosthetic hands less than 1K dollars. Source code of a prosthetic hand is shared on the site as open source. This means anyone who has a 3D printer can print a prosthetic hand without any patent and only pay for the required material. Similar examples exist in this field. Robert Downey Jr. has just surprised his 7-year-old fan with 3D printed prosthetic iron man arm. The iron man arm costs just 350 dollars. It is definitely worth to make a child smile.

Iron Man and Iron Boy

I would cover the post with the famous quote of Alan Kay: the best way to predict the future is to invent it!

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