Did the use of lead to a computer revolution?


” … in terms of our view of the universe – or my view of the universe – perception can be more powerful than physics can be.”

You might be excused for thinking these are the words of a philosopher or a stoned Grateful Dead fan, but no. It’s from an interview in 2000 with Mike Lynch, the CEO of Autonomy and Britain’s first software billionaire, currently in the process of selling his company to Hewlett-Packard for $10bn (£6bn). Lynch, who was talking about the power of the pattern recognition that forms the basis of Autonomy’s success, went on to talk about the fascination of dreams, near-death experiences and the accounts of those experimenting scientifically with LSD in the 1960s: all forms of altered perception.

Did psychedelic drugs play a substantive role in the development of personal computing? In 2009, Ryan Grim, as part of publicising his book This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America wrote a piece for the Huffington Post that made public a letter from LSD inventor Albert Hofmann to Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2007 asking for funding for research into the use of psychedelics to help relieve the anxiety associated with life-threatening illness.

He picked Jobs because, as New York Times reporter John Markoff told the world in his 2005 book, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, Jobs believed that taking LSD was one of the two or three most important things he’d done in his life. That 2001 conversation inspired Markoff to write the book: a history of computing with the drugs kept in.

From 1961 to 1965, the Bay Area-based International Foundation for Advanced Study led more than 350 people through acid trips for research purposes. Some of them were important pioneers in the development of computing, such as Doug Engelbart, the father of the computer mouse, then heading a project to use computers to augment the human mind at nearby SRI. Grim also names the inventors of virtual reality and early Cisco employee Kevin Herbert as examples of experimenters with acid, and calls Burning Man (whose frequent attendees include Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page) the modern equivalent for those seeking mind expansion.

There’s a delicious irony in thinking that the same American companies who require their employees to pee in a cup rely on machines that were created by drugged-out hippies. But things aren’t so simple. Markoff traces modern computing to two sources. First is the clean-cut, military-style, suit-wearing Big Iron approach of the east coast that, in its IBM incarnation, was so memorably smashed in the 1984 Super Bowl ad for the first Apple Mac.

Second is the eclectic and iconoclastic mix of hackers, hippies, and rebels of the west coast, from whose ranks so many of today’s big Silicon Valley names emerged. Markoff, born and bred in the Bay Area and 18 in 1967, argues the idea of the personal computer as a device to empower individuals was a purely west coast idea; the east coast didn’t “get” anything but corporate technology.

There’s a basic principle to invoke here: coincidence does not imply causality. As early Sun employee John Gilmore, whom Grim calls a “well-known psychonaut”, says in that article, it is very difficult to prove that drug use led directly to personal computers. The 1960s were a time of extreme upheaval: the Vietnam war and the draft, the advent of female-controlled contraception, and the campaign for civil rights all contributed to the counterculture. Was it the sex, the drugs or the rock’n’roll – or the science fiction?

In 1998 Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet, said in a discussion of his enjoyment of science fiction: “I think it’s also made it easier for me to think about things that weren’t quite ready yet but I could imagine might just possibly be feasible.”

Annie Gottlieb, in Do You Believe in Magic? Bringing the 60s Back Home, recounts the personal exploratory experiences of a variety of interviewees, and comes to this conclusion: “Any drug experience is determined far less by the drug than by what we bring to it.” Many people tried acid. Only one became Steve Jobs.

Dell readies its new consumer laptops and 2-in-1 tablet-laptop hybrids

Dell is launching a series of new Inspiron- and XPS-branded laptops and tablet-laptop hybrids that use Intel’s latest 8th Generation Core processors. That means they’re going to be speedier for people who want to watch videos, multitask, and have all-day battery life.

The new models include four different laptops that are targeted at specific parts of the market and feature Intel processors that are 44 percent faster than previous-generation chips. Dell is showing the laptops at the upcoming IFA event in Berlin.

I got a good look at the laptops, which are targeted at consumers and businesses during the upcoming holiday season, at a Dell preview event in San Francisco. The laptops include the Inspiron 7000 series, with 13-inch, 15-inch, and 17-inch screens.

Above: Dell Inspiron 7000 model with 13-inch screen.

Image Credit: Dell

The Inspiron 7000 2-in-1 laptop-tablet hybrids are available with screens of 13 inches or 15 inches, with gray brushed aluminum covers. They have a narrow border FHD IPS touch display that supports active pens for digital drawing, writing, and note-taking. The 15-inch model includes an optional 4K UltraHD IPS touch display. The screens are optimized for watching movies and video chat.

The 13-inch Inspiron 7000 2-in-1 sells for $850 and the 15-inch for $880, both starting October 3.

Dell is also unveiling new Inspiron 13 and 15 5000 2-in-1 hybrid tablet-laptops. They have new Intel processors that will enable good performance while multitasking. The 13-inch will begin selling for $750 and the 15-inch for $800, also on October 3.

Dell’s 17-inch 7000 2-in-1 Inspiron laptop will start selling on October 3 for $950. It has a FHD IPS screen with a wide-viewing angle and touch display and sports a Nvidia GeForce 940MX discrete graphics chip and a USB Type-C port MX150 Display Port.

Above: Dell Inspiron 5000 2-in-1 model with 13-inch screen.

Image Credit: Dell

Lastly, the XPS 13 comes with a 13.3-inch screen and a 7th Generation Intel Core i3 processor, and it is available now for $800. It has an optional quad HD+Infinity Edge display. A version with a Core i7 8th Generation Intel processor will sell for $1,400, starting September 12. It has up to 22 hours of battery life.

Dell also revealed its Premium Support Plus with predictive bug detection and 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support. The support removes viruses automatically and optimizes performance for consumer PCs.