PLATO: How an educational computer system from the ’60s shaped the future #VintageComputing @arstechnica

 

Bright graphics, a touchscreen, a speech synthesizer, messaging apps, games, and educational software—no, it’s not your kid’s iPad. This is the mid-1970s, and all this was on PLATO.

Far from its comparatively primitive contemporaries of teletypes and punch cards, PLATO was something else entirely. If you were fortunate enough to be near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) around a half-century ago, you just might have gotten a chance to build the future.

Many of the computing innovations we treat as commonplace started with this system, and even today, some of PLATO’s capabilities have never been precisely duplicated. Ars Technica looks back on this influential technological testbed and see how you can experience it now.

Principal architect Paul Tenczar had been unhappy with the level of FORTRAN knowledge required to write lessons for PLATO I and II and wanted to design a “simple users [sic] language… specifically for a computer-based educational system using graphical screen displays.” TUTOR was a mostly imperative, partly declarative language that allowed an educator to define lesson order, screen displays, correct answers and assistive text.

Read this exhaustive history and see the capabilities on Ars Technica.


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