Imagine walking into a greeting card store to get a bespoke bit of poetry, written just for you by a computer. It’s not such a wild idea, given the recent development of AI-powered language models such as GPT-3. But the product I’m describing isn’t new at all. Called Magical Poet, it was installed on early Macintosh computers and deployed in retail settings nationwide all the way back in 1985.
I came across this gem of a fact in that year’s November issue of MacUser Magazine—a small item right near the announcement that Apple was working on the ability to generate digitized speech. You see, perusing 1980s and 1990s computer magazines from the Internet Archive is a hobby of mine, and it rarely disappoints. My tastes tend towards MacUser and Macworld, given my Apple-centric childhood, though I’m also known to dip into some vintage BYTE. I love the wordiness of the old advertisements, with whole paragraphs devoted to the details of their products. I love when an article describes concepts and ideas that we take for granted now, like the nature of uploading and downloading. And I love the nostalgia these magazines evoke, that sense of wonder and possibility that computers brought to us when they first entered our lives.
But there’s much more to it than mere delight. I’ve found that excavating old technology often points the way to