We live in an age when the creators of the new technologies, and the founders of the huge companies built on the back of their inventions, are recognized and idolised right around the world. Think of Apple’s Steve Jobs, Facebook’s Marc Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Bill Gates of Microsoft.
But who knows the names of the talented engineers who invented such thing as stereo sound, colour tv, high definition tv, digital radio, and the iPlayer? These engineering creations in turn spawned worldwide consumer demand. The common link is that these modest inventors all worked at the BBC. It’s a real shame that their names aren’t widely known and celebrated.
This thought is prompted by a piece in the Observer this week by the always-interesting John Naughton. He marks the 30th birthday of the BBC Micro: “The BBC Micro taught a generation of teenagers the joys of programming. It's time to re-engineer such a revolution".
Note John Naughton’s penultimate pargraph:
The BBC Micro is 30 this year. It got its name from a BBC project to enhance the nation's computer literacy. The broadcasters wanted a machine around which they could base a major factual series, The Computer Programme, showing how computers could be used, not just for programming but also for graphics, sound and vision, artificial intelligence and controlling peripheral devices. So a technical specification was drawn up by the BBC's engineers and put to a number of smallish companies then operating in the embryonic market for "micro" computers.
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This penny has taken a long time to drop in this country, but mercifully things are beginning to change. Policy-makers are waking up to the realisation that an understanding of computing is not a luxury but a critical national resource. In a world increasingly run by networked computing, societies that don't have those skills are doomed to becoming passive consumers of devices and services that are created by industrial elites located elsewhere. That's why the story of the BBC Micro is relevant to all our futures: we have to re-engineer the revolution that it triggered.
And read about that 1982 BBC Computer Programme here
The BBC Micro