I remember a time, not too long ago, when a 540 MB hard drive cost just over $500 – the rule of thumb for disk storage at the time was roughly a buck a meg. Right now at Factory Direct, you can get a 250 GB hard drive for $119, which is less than 50 cents a gig. Which means that in less than ten years, the price of hard disk storage has come down by a factor of two thousand.
Our first computer (in 1982) was a Commodore VIC-20, with 3.5 kB of usable RAM, and the only storage was tape casettes. It cost something like $400. After a while, we got a 16 kB expansion cartridge, and I didn’t know what to do with all the extra memory. Eventually (maybe 1985) we moved up to an XT with an 8 kHz processor, some terribly small amount of RAM (definitely measured in kB, not MB), and two floppy drives (no hard disk) – this machine cost over 2 grand. My dad bought a 10 MB hard disk a little while later, and we were on the leading edge of computing. Now, twenty years later, there’s a far more powerful computer embedded in your average vending machine, and I have a little two-inch-long thing that hangs on my key chain that can store 128 MB.
It’s almost scary to think what computing will be like 10 or 20 years from now. This post kind of reminds me of the book The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil, which I read a year or two ago (and inspired the album Spiritual Machines by Our Lady Peace). Kurzweil talks about how much more powerful (and cheaper) computers are getting, and eventually, they will be as powerful and fast as the human brain — and what happens then? Will people start getting microprocessor implants to enhance memory, intelligence, or even things like strength or muscular endurance? How many such implants can one have before the line between human and machine gets blurry? A really interesting read.