Letters Issue 7 Contents Software Scene


Clive Sinclair gives his views on the future of the Western civilised world to a British Mensa symposium in Cambridge

Computers will bring a new Golden Age

AS WELL as being head of Sinclair Research, Clive Sinclair is chairman of British Mensa, an exclusive club whose members have IQs which reach the genius level.

In a speech at the Mensa Golden Ages symposium at Cambridge, Sinclair outlined his ideas for the future, not of his range of personal computers but of the Western civilised world. He said: "I intend arguing that the most Golden Age of man's history may well lie before us, if we can only move in the right direction."

The new age would need to be triggered by an event which will startle society. The trigger, Sinclair explained, would be something similar to the invention of writing or moving type. He said: "Both of those developments reduced the cost of data transmission by a factor of 100."

He saw leisure, or periods of time not occupied by formal work, as an opportunity to broaden the mind. If the trigger occurs at the proper time and the Golden Age arrives "the body of men arises which can turn its attention to matters other than necessities. Thus wealthy patrons produce the great flowerings of arts which are a feature of the Golden Ages.

"Equally, the Golden Ages are often marked by one great individual, a type of philosopher-prince, e.g., Pericles, Augustus, Lorenzo de Medici, Elizabeth I and Louis XIV."

'I believe that our move away from the industrial type of organisation will restore the potential of the individual'

In business operations, Sinclair seems to regard the personal approach best. One man at the head of a company. He has stressed that approach many times through Sinclair Research, so that now he is as famous as his machines, whereas other manufacturers remain masked by their company exteriors.

During his speech Sinclair referred his ideas to the present day. He saw the Golden Age as being very close. Some of the features which marked the Golden Ages of the past could be identified within our time. That could place us on the threshold of a new Golden Age. To demonstrate it, Sinclair returned to the idea of a trigger.

"Is there a trigger? It so happens that another hundred-fold reduction in the cost of data publication and transmission is about to occur. A single 12in. diameter optical disc, being developed for use with TV can, remarkably enough, contain the information of 10,000 books and that disc will cost not much more than a few books - almost, in fact, a thousand-fold reduction in costs."

The reduction in costs and the innovations in mass marketing are compared to what Sinclair calls "the potential of the individual".

Until now, society has accepted that people will work together in large groups. People work in large companies, they commute into towns and cities every working day. That massing of the working population is the motive force behind the present state of the economy.

Sinclair said: "We have for some time been passing through a great industrial age in which the economic basis of society has demanded the bringing together of people in great numbers, many thousands per factory, many millions per city. I believe that our move away from this type of organisation will restore the potential of the individual."

Lorenzo de Medici, Elizabeth I and Louis XIV were patrons of earlier golden ages. Will the computer be the patron of the next?

Individual human potential is something Sinclair seems largely to favour. While Sinclair Research is a company, like many others, where everyone pulls together, it is still mostly a one-man operation. Sinclair is the man who defines what he wants and lays-out the timetable for its development.

That style of operation has so far proved successful, first with the ZX-80 and ZX-81 and now with the Spectrum. The hundreds of firms which give support to Sinclair microcomputers would also seem to prove his point to be correct.

Sinclair sees the new Golden Age as being a time of the mind, with less stress put on the body and building culture rather than labouring. He feels that another Golden Age requirement is an abundant supply of patrons, people who can appreciate, as well as create, art.

"We have a well-educated population, a society which reveres the arts, and have become a world centre for music and for the written word."

The reason for the swing towards cultural pursuits is marked with the stigma of a current curse on society.

Sinclair said: "We have potential artists, partly for the sad reason that we have three million unemployed; this is not a passing phase of recession but a trend which will last until the end of the century, during which I expect the manufacturing industry to shed a further seven million jobs and for the proportion employed in manufacturing to decline from some 42 percent of the population to less than 10 percent. This will occur as automated systems are now radically cheaper than manual costs."

The resulting factors of unemployment due to technological innovation and automation will leave the population with a lot of spare time if present trends continue. If the number of unemployed rises to more than 90 percent it may be necessary to redefine the term altogether.

'Early in the next century we will have made intelligent machines ending for all time the pattern of drudgery'

The type of work people do would change drastically. A new concept of work would have to be created. That is where culture and the processes of the mind would enter. People would have more time to learn and so understanding of many areas of science would improve.

"We must change the pattern of expectation - no longer to prepare people for a life-time's work in major organisations but to give them the self-reliance for a broader role in smaller groups.

"Many, if not all, of today's young people will always work for small organisations and indeed must found them. We must encourage people to follow this route if we are to create future employment whether in high technology, in a revival of a class, or in service industries."

Sinclair foresees a new 'creative endeavour'. People are experiencing new technology, seeing what it can do for them. It can relieve them of manual tasks so that they can use their minds more fully.

Young people were just beginning to learn about new technology. According to Sinclair, the learning process would only be the beginning. Learning the techniques of putting ink on to paper was only the beginning of writing creative prose and poetry - learning to communicate successfully. Learning about new technology through machines such as the ZX-81 and the Spectrum which, because of low prices, were within the reach of nearly everybody, was the beginning of a process which may lead to what Sinclair believes is a new Golden Age.

"Because we no longer need to devote the bulk of our time to the production of objects, I can see the plateau of a Golden Age before us. Certainly we may need inspiration and leadership, great building, a bridge over rather than a tunnel under the Channel.

"Early in the next century we will have made intelligent machines ending for all time the pattern of drudgery - with them we can start the exploration of the universe. It may be that Western civilisation, seeded in seventh-century Ireland is only just about to flower."

To some, Sinclair's ideas may seem like science fiction but some cynics said that a machine like the Spectrum was not possible only last year.

Letters Issue 7 Contents Software Scene

Sinclair User
October 1982