Well, officially the MacWorld folks say the Expo has gone on “hiatus,” but unless Apple reverses Steve Jobs’ decision to stop using the annual exposition of all things Mac as the showcase for the latest products in the company’s portfolio, this seems like the end of a great yearly tradition. For me, the best part of each Expo consisted of reconnecting with online friends for serious face time on the Expo floor and at the nearby Buca di Beppo restaurant.
However, January 1992 remains special. That says a lot, because I was one of the first people to see a demo of the Bondi-Blue iMac. I was also one of the only Americans who saw the iMac G4 with the half-dome base before Apple unveiled it in 2002. 1992 stands out as the first MacWorld Expo I had ever attended. It introduced one absolutely shocking innovation (by 1992 standards): QuickTime. I remember looking at a QuickTime clip, about the size of a large postage stamp in the upper left-hand corner of the monitor, listening to someone confidently tell me that someday very soon all television will come to us via computer.
I imagine that took a bit longer than he expected.
But the most vivid memory involves the other shocking new technology–Adobe Photoshop plugins. Adobe had introduced plugins in 1991, but MacWorld Expo 1992 saw the introduction of a set of plugins by not-yet-computer-graphics-software-legend Kai Krause called Kai’s Power Tools. Every demo at his booth was jammed, and you could not walk past it because too many people filled the aisles.
I only had a mild interest in his demo; when your computer is the original Mac Classic, you ain’t gonna use Photoshop or Kai’s Power Tools any time soon. In fact, I spent as much time glancing at the other spectators as at the demo. Fascinating. So many stunned human beings. Some had bulging eyes. Some had jaws hanging down. Some kept saying “Whoa!” at each effect. Some did all three.
Except the guy standing next to me. He was shaking a little.
Very, very tall, receding hairline, quite slender. I wondered why he reacted differently, especially since–believe it or not–his Expo badge stated that he worked at Adobe.
So why did he seem upset?
Surely Kai’s Power Tools would boost Photoshop sales, much as Enrico Caruso’s records boosted the sales of record players (at least, according to urban legend). If anything, he should have felt delighted with the demonstration, which I must say was a brilliant one.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I notice that you work for Adobe.”
“You seem upset. What’s the problem? Some kind of copyright violation?”
“N-n-no, n-not at all. It’s Photoshop. That software is doing things that I didn’t know were possible, I never imagined that Photoshop could do what it’s doing. The software has powers I never thought it had.”
I shrugged. “Well, if you ask one of the programmers, I’m sure they won’t be surprised.”
He turned to me, his eyes turned wild, and he said exactly what you think he said.
“I AM one of the programmers.”
Which made it official: the new era predicted in dystopian science fiction had not just arrived, but had firmly planted itself in the world and become accepted, even embraced. I refer to the era of software engineers creating products that have far greater powers than they thought, powers that they didn’t know they had programmed into their software. I’m sure Photoshop was not the first software that had abilities its programmers did not anticipate, with all the potentially disastrous–and beneficial–consequences that might have. But to that Adobe programmer and to me, it seemed like the step forward that you can’t take back.
The step forward to software that will achieve consciousness.
Still seems like fanciful science fiction to me.
But who knows?
Vonn Scott Bair
PS–Standing next to a legend, and it never occurred to me to learn the guy’s name. Sheesh.