A few years ago when my daughter was a little younger, we looked together at a couple of cartoon movies about the detective Agaton Sax. What struck me first was the computer he used, named Thinking August. He fed the computer with speech, pictures and written texts, both machine and hand written. After some thinking August replied with some kind of answer, for example photos of the most probable guilty criminals of the actual case. Mr Sax himself explained his computer in the following way: “Thinking August is a computing machine with no own intelligence. You have to tell the machine a lot of things that we know. I do this by pressing these buttons. It’s called feeding the machine with the data, it is the so called data feed. Without this data feed. Thinking August will not be able to think or be used in any other way. With the right input data, however, Thinking August will provide the most detailed answers to virtually impossible questions.” Pure Business Intelligence, isn’t it? In a way, it’s also Big Data as the computer can make unlimited use of all these different data sources for its analysis.
OK, what is so special with a computer like this? Well, the first thing that hits me is that this idea of a computer was created in the early 60’s. Who was this visionary writer of children’s books in a time when the term “computer” was unknown to a very large majority?
His name was Nils-Olof Franzén, a Swedish literary scholar, author, radio host and director at the Swedish public radio, born in 1916. Obviously he was not the typical scientist that we would expect having these thoughts.
I got curious and had to read more about this guy. Sadly it was hard to find information about him. I found only one photo of him. Maybe he protected himself from the Big Brother issue he wrote about in 1970 in the Agaton Sax and the London Computer Plot, which was a foresight of how huge computers and networks could be used in a Big Brother like way as the NSA stories have brought to reality today, as well as tools for crime like the Internet crime scene today. This was 45 years ago!
From where did he get the influences to create and write about future visionary things that was so far away from common understanding at the time?
Inspired by the story I continue to wonder about who are the foreseeing Nils-Olofs today? What visions are they talking about? Probably very hard to find. To me it is really hard to think that much out of the box to find something similar. Maybe we should look in the children’s literature. What do you think? Have you discovered any potential Nils-Olof today?