Flashback: 1971 and 1992

It’s Flashback time again and today at 4:15–4:30ish I’ll be talking about 1971 and 1992. Listen on 95.1 FM if you are in the Manchester area, or check it out online via the BBC iPlayer. I have a stinking cold so I’ll be trying not to sneeze and snuffle all the way through.


  • Intel released the world’s first microprocessor, the 4004. There’s some debate about whether this was genuinely the first — the other candidate is Four Phase Systems’ AL1. But the Intel 4004 seems to have been more influential in the future development of computing. It first appeared in a calculator from Japanese company Busicom and ran at 740KHz. My (now relatively slow) 2GHz office computer is more than two and a half thousand times as fast in clock speed alone. It’s real-life processing power is astronomically greater.
  • The first pocket calculator was launched in Japan by Busicom — the LE-120A. There’s lots of confusion about this one too. Texas Instruments owned the patent for the pocket calculator but it appears the Japanese were the first to market. It was the UK’s Sinclair who dramatically dropped the price of the devices, introducing the Cambidge for just £25.99 by 1973.
  • The first commercial CAT scanner was built by EMI, allegedly funded by the success of the Beatles! CAT stands for Computer Assisted Tomography, and requires the machine to take multiple images of the human body slice by slice. The first example was installed in Atkinson Morley hospital in Wimbledon.
  • The email address was invented by Ray Tomlinson. The idea of electronic mail had been around for five or six years by this time but this was the first time the @ sign had been used to separate the name of a person from the name of their machine.
  • IBM introduced the floppy disk. This was even bigger than the 5.25in disks that the older ones amongst us will remember. It was 8 inches wide! Over time it was replaced by the 5.25 in disk, then the 3.5 in, then finally the CD-ROM and flash disk.
  • Liquid Crystal Displays ( LCD ) were patented in Switzerland and the US by different inventors. They quickly made their way in to wrist watches but it took another twenty-five years before they became commonplace in home computers and TVs.


  • Windows 3.1 was released by Microsoft, bringing the graphical computer interface to the masses for the first time. Windows 1, 2 and 3 were not exactly resounding successes, but third (and a bit) time lucky. Given how much time has passed, the standard computer interface has changed remarkably little today.
  • BT and AT&T; in the US both launched video telephones. The UK version cost around £400 while the US one started at $1,499. They weren’t exactly a huge hit…
  • Nicotine patches were licensed for use on prescription to help people stop smoking. they became available over the counter a few years later.
  • The First Person Shooter or FPS became popular with the launch of Wolfenstein 3D. This was the predecessor to the Doom series of games that even spawned a film, and more recently Halo on the X-Box.
  • SMS: the first text message was sent in 1992 by British engineer Neil Papworth. It said ‘MERRY CHRISTMAS’. The success of SMS and the subsequent creation of text speak took the mobile phone operators totally by surprise. Today it remains a major source of income for them, and has become the basis for a range of new businesses, such as Pop Idol and X-Factor.
This post forms part of my Blogs series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Blogs page.

Tom Cheesewright


Futurist speaker Tom Cheesewright is one of the UK's leading commentators on technology and tomorrow. Tom has worked with a huge range of organisations across a variety of markets, to help them to see a clear vision of tomorrow, share that vision and respond with agility. Tom draws on his experience to create original, compelling talks that are keyed to the experience of the audience but which surprise and shock with unexpected facts and examples.

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