Until computers come to the people we will have no real idea of their most natural functions. Up to the present their cost and size has kept them in the province of rich and powerful institutions, who, understandably, have developed them primarily as bookkeeping, sorting and control devices. The computers have been a priceless aid in keeping the lid on top-down organization. They are splendidly impressive as oracles of (programmable) Truth, the lofty voice of unchangeable authority.
In fact, computers don’t know shit. Their special talent in the direction of intelligence is the ability to make elaborate models and fiddle with them, to I answer in detail questions that begin “What if ..?” In this they parallel (and can help) the acquiring of intelligence by children. But the basic fact of computer use is “Garbage In, Garbage Out” - if you feed the computer nonsense, it will dutifully convert your mistake into insanity-cubed and feed it back to you. Children are different - “Garbage In, Food Out” is common with them. Again, the benefits of variant parallel systems. Computer function is mostly one-track-mind, in which inconsistency is intolerable. The human mind functions on multiple tracks (not all of them accessible); it can tolerate and even thrive on inconsistency.
I suggest that the parallel holds for the overall picture of computer use. Where a few brilliantly stupid computers can wreak havoc, a host of modest computers (and some brilliant ones) serving innumerable individual purposes can be healthful, can repair havoc, feed life. (Likewise, 20 crummy speakers at once will give better sound fidelity than one excellent speaker - try it.)
Spacewar serves Earthpeace. So does any funky playing with computers or any computer-pursuit of your own peculiar goals, and especially any use of computers to offset other computers. It won’t be so hard. The price of hardware is coming down fast, and with the new CMOS chips (Complimentary Metal Oxide Semiconductor integrated circuits) the energy-drain of major computing drops to Flashlight-battery level.
Part of the grotesqueness of American life in these latter days is a subservience to Plan that amounts to panic. What we don’t intend shouldn’t happen. What happens anyway is either blamed on our enemies or baldly ignored. In our arrogance we close our ears to voices not our rational own, we routinely reject the princely gifts of spontaneous generation.
Spacewar as a parable is almost too pat. It was the illegitimate child of the marrying of computers and graphic displays. It was part of no one’s grand scheme. It served no grand theory. It was the enthusiasm of irresponsible youngsters. It was disreputably competitive (“You killed me, Tovar!”). It was an administrative headache. It was merely delightful."
— Stewart Brand, Spacewar 1972