From Punch Cards to Implants

While watching </scorpion> last night, Amy made the comment that we are the bridge generation. I asked her what she meant and she responded that we are the generation that will have gone from punch cards to implants. I thought this was profound.

BTW – </scorpion> was pretty good, although it’s getting crappy reviews according to Wikipedia. It’s not lost on me that the name of the show appears to be “end scorpion” so either someone in Hollywood is being too cute for their own good or they are clueless about HTML.

The first program I wrote was in 1977 in APL on an IBM mainframe (probably a S/360)  in the basement of a Frito-Lay data center in downtown Dallas. My uncle Charlie sat me down in a chair in front of a terminal, gave me a copy of Kevin Iverson’s A Programming Language, and left me alone for a while. He checked on me a few times, showed me the OCR system he’d helped create, and gave me some punch cards which I promptly folded, spindled, and mutilated.

My second program was on a computer at Richland College shortly thereafter. My parents got me into a community college course on programming and I was the precocious 12 year old in the class. I remember writing a high-low game, but I don’t remember the type of computer it was on. My guess is that it was a DEC PDP-something – maybe a PDP-8.

Shortly after I was introduced to a TRS-80 and then got an Apple II (the original one – not an Apple IIe – I even needed an Integer Card) for my bar mitzvah and was off to the races.

Almost 40 years later I’m still at it, but now investing rather than programming. When I think of what interests me right now, it’s all stuff that is in the “implant” spectrum – not quite there yet, but starting to march toward it with a steady pace. I believe in our AI future, think the Cylons are a pretty good representation of where things are going, am deeply intrigued with Hawking drives and the Shrike, and am ready to upload my consciousness “whenever.”

Assuming I live another 30+ years, I’ll definitely have experienced the bridge from punch cards to implants. And I think that’s pretty cool.


  • mowheeler

    Will never forget the first time I stepped up to the desk at MIT Timesharing to submit my stack of cards to be processed on their systems. Probably around 1976 or 1977. High school studies program. Got my magnetic tape for the PDP8 at my HS in 1978. Good memories.

    • You were probably a big fan of SIPB!

  • APL 🙂

  • Rick

    My first computer was an IBM PS/2. I still have it in the box somewhere.

  • Sebastien Latapie

    I would love to hear more about what you are finding interesting in the implant area (maybe a future blog post?). I’m really into all the brain-computer interface things going on as of now!

    • I’m sure it’ll find its way into a post here and there!

  • williamhertling

    I had my first experience with a computer when I was about 8 or 9. My uncle worked at Wang Laboratories. It was either a Wang OIS or Wang VS. Later my mom would borrow TRS-80s from friends so I would have a chance to get to use one.

    It is pretty mind-blowing to think about how far we’ve come, how far we’re going, and how fast it’s happening.

    Think about the transition you go through now when you go from connected phone to unconnected phone. Imagine how much harder that transition will be going between implanted + connected to disconnected. It will literally feel like part of your brain going away.

    • Think how frustrated we are when we can’t get online in a hotel room. Now, think about how that would feel if it was your brain not getting online…

  • My first computer was a TRS-80. My brother and I had some fun times with that.

  • First program: 1978, DEC PDP-11/70, BASIC, Augustana College, Rock Island IL. My first program was written on one of those fancy new CRT terminals they kept in a vault that got locked up every night believe it or not. It was an actual VT-100. After that I had took a class and I went back to punch cards…

    • I spent a lot of time on a VT-100 at MIT, which in hindsight confuses me.

      • Guest

        And then there was this beast that I spent way too much time on. Worst of both worlds. A step up from punch cards editing wise but I sure burned through a lot of paper…

      • And then there was this beast that I spent way too much time on. Worst of both worlds. A little step up from punch cards editing wise but I sure went through a lot of paper…

  • Remember “endless do loops”? I took my computer courses at the University of Illinois in the early 80’s out of the College of Business. We used punch cards. The College of Engineering on the other side of the campus was doing something else. In the 1990’s Marc Andreessen and the gang would change computing forever there.

    • 10 PRINT “I’M TIRED”
      20 GOTO 10

  • Colorado Plastics

    Downingtown (PA) high school, 1975, Fortran, wrote a roulette game, probably about 55 cards. Amen to the thrill of walking up to the card reader for the first time. Implants still make me think of William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

    • Neuromancer: the book that defined cyberpunk / cyberfiction. So yummy.

      • For sure. And, somewhat ironically, the implant modules in Neuromancer were called microsofts.

  • So you don’t agree with Elon Musk’s assertion that “AI could be more dangerous than nukes.”

    Or perhaps you just have a greater faith in humanity?

    • Or maybe I have less faith in humanity.

      • Just finished Trancendence. Johnny Depp uploads his consciousness…. The movie gracefully tackles this precise issue, made me think of this discussion.

        And as a perfect tie in, Elon Musk has a cameo.

        • Amy and I watched Tracendence a few months ago. We liked some of it; hated some of it. It’s a hard movie to do well.

    • Charles Wood

      I share the same disturbing concerns. Implants for enhanced abilities are one thing. But AI opens a complete realm of possible horors. Changing the definition of humanity. I too remember the Atari and Sinclair. I also believe bioengineering is a necessary part of our medical future. Creating what may improve our lives should not replace who or what we are. Human.

  • Man…ok this is turning into a memory lane discussion. 1979, University of Regina, I have no idea what the computer was, but I remember that only *one* of the terminals had a CRT display. The rest had dot matrix printers for I/O. I typed in a few BASIC programs – something about a lunar lander.

    Then the Atari 400 came out and I had a computer of my very own, which defined the next 10ish years of my hobby, before switching to mechanical engineering. I think there was something very special for those exposed to the 1980s home computer age (who would then go on to land smack-dab in the middle of the 1990s internet age).

  • I have experienced my first consumer-level AI product and am so hooked. I wish I could find and invest in more.

  • karlin munoz

    havin as good burger that’s good to start doing what you want to do and have fun along the way

    • ENOW IVO


  • FC

    I started my first company in 1977 using a PDP-15 with MUMPS created at MIT. Because I employed part-time programmers, who were government connected, we had access to the WEB. I took email for granted and believed all coders could write code as fast as the guys who worked for me at night. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had happened upon a small group of genius coders. They rocked.

  • Reading about your first programming experience reminded me of the first time I visited a data center in my early teens. The geek that showed me around gave me a plastic flowchart template. I have never recovered (in a wonderful, life defining way) from the experience.