On September 20th, in WeWork’s shared office space in Westlake Tower, a few dozen people gathered as part of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Network to hear two representatives from the municipal government. As Kathy Nyland of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods and Randy Engstrom of the Office of Arts & Culture described their roles, how their team affected Seattle, and how they viewed Seattle and its future, a line stuck out to me.
Engstrom said, “This is a place where people come to reimagine the world.” I find that this quote indeed rings true for the city, and much of this is reflected in Seattle’s relationship with technology. A number of great museums, such as the Museum of Flight, the Museum of History and Industry, and the Museum of Communications, show how our city is a hub for disruptive technology.
As the Living Computer Museum, we displayed working historic computers to show changes and highlight breakthroughs throughout the development of computing, with a particular focus on Seattle-area innovations. As we change to Living Computers: Museum + Labs, the modern technology exhibits and lab spaces will give visitors the tools to make new innovations and reimagine their world.
LCM+L Founder Paul G. Allen started what would become the collection we display based on a desire to keep alive the historical software he used in his pre- and early Microsoft days. Expressed in an open letter posted to the alt.sys.pdp10 and other USENET newsgroups, Allen invited others to use PDP-10 software on a XKL TOAD-1 he owned. As the collection grew to include other machines, PDP Planet was created as a portal for people to access restored systems and information related to those systems.
Tours of the facility holding the artifacts were offered on a limited basis, necessitating a change of name in the eyes of the staff. The Living Computer Museum continued to grow and opened for regular visiting hours on October 25th, 2012. It was on our 4th anniversary that we announced the next step of our evolution.
When one visits the museum they will learn about the experience of Allen who, alongside his friend Bill Gates, was fortunate to have access to computing technology at a young age.
Already interested in technology, Allen and Gates interacted with the computers of their day- big mainframes whose contemporaries you can see in our museum- via Teletype from their classroom at Lakeside School. Their interest in computing became an obsession, hunting down any chance to interact with these machines.
In his memoir, Idea Man, Allen remembers how pivotal his opportunity to have access at that time was stating, “If I’d been born five years earlier, I might have lacked the patience as a teenager to put up with batch-processing computers. Had I come around five years later, after time-sharing became institutionalized, I would have missed the opportunities that come with trying something new.”
We intend to replicate experiences like this by providing visitors, particularly students, with novel experiences in the right environment. They will be given information about the current topics in computing- artificial intelligence, virtual reality, programmable robots, big data, internet of things, self-driving vehicles, and digital art- and access to the latest in technology to explore them. Activities in our labs will educate and strengthen the curiosity inspired through interaction with that technology.
Living Computers has been a well-regarded museum thus far, providing insight to the history of technology. However, the strongest emotion felt by most visitors is nostalgia, stimulated by a reunion with hardware or software they loved using years, often decades, ago. We seek to keep fueling this with our display of vintage machines, while encouraging curiosity and exploration through new technology.
Seattle has been reimagining the world from its earliest days, and continues to be a magnet for dreamers who dare to make their ideas real. We encourage you to visit us, see these tools, and challenge you to imagine how they can help you tackle the real world issues that matter to you. How will you, or your children, reimagine the world?