The Atari Drawings, 1982

Bob Stein
3 min readNov 10, 2014

In 1981 Alan Kay asked me to join him at Atari to continue my work on the possibility of an intelligent encyclopedia. In order to explain what we were doing to the executives at Warner which owned Atari, Brenda Laurel and I developed some scenarios illustrating how the (future) encyclopedia might be used and commissioned Glenn Keane, a well-known Disney animator to render them. The most interesting thing for me today about these images is that although we foresaw that people would access information wirelessly (notice the little antenna on the device in the “tide pool” image, we completely missed the most important aspect of the network — that it was going to connect people to each other. And one important assumption missing from the scenarios is that users would be able to carry on natural-language conversations with the encyclopedia which would customize its answers to a user’s intellectual abilities.

Children in the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History carry Intelligent Encyclopedia’s with headphones around instead of audiotape players. Interactive simulations of dinosaur life from the IE are running on the wall monitors.

A father reminisces with his son about ’60′s Rock and Roll, calling up footage from the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show from the Intelligent Encyclopedia.

A vintner in northern California wonders what would be involved in changing wine production to sake. On horseback he is asking the Intelligent Encyclopedia about soil and water requirements for growing rice.

An earthquake wakes a couple in the middle of the night. The Intelligent Encyclopedia, connected to an online service informs them of the severity of the earthquake and makes safety tips readily available.

A third grade class studies various aspects of space travel. The group on the right is running a simulation of a Mars landing while the students on the left are studying a design for a spacecraft.

A business man on his way to New York, reviews stock market trends.

In a bar, the two men at the right are watching football while they run what-if simulations on the countertop Intelligent Encyclopedia which second-guess the quarterback. The couple on the left is taking an on-the-spot course in wine connoisseurship.

An architect in New York studies Japanese motif for a project he’s working on, while a teacher in Tokyo talks with her class about western architectural styles.

A mother and her children looking into a tidepool in Laguna ask the Intelligent Encyclopedia about the plants and animals that they see. [Notice the antenna for cellular communication.]