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May 23

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May 23, 1982 – The Television Special Computers Are People, Too! Premieres

“Computers – they’re everywhere! There’s no escaping them, no matter who you are.”

On May 23, 1982, the television special Computers Are People, Too! premiered. Created as promotional tool for the live action feature film Tron, the feature sought to not only soothe the public’s fears that they would be displaced by computers and robots, but to show how people would work with machines peacefully. It was directed by Denis Sanders, and starred Elaine Joyce, Joseph Campanella, and Michael Iceberg.

The special begins with Elaine Joyce playing a computer game while other computer systems work around her. She loses her game, and the computer bets her “double or nothing” to play again. She wonders if she, as a singer, dancer, and actress, will be replaced by computers and machines. The main computer reminds her that computers are people as well, and simulates a juggler. Joyce then introduces the computer of the future: Telecommunicative Operative Memory, or TOM for short. TOM explains that he is an extension of a person’s intelligence, and on the verge of a partnership with several types of people, such as artists and athletes. He provides several examples of machine meeting art, including several clips from the upcoming film Tron. Joyce wonders how to work with TOM if she doesn’t know how the computer thinks. She panics, thinking that the computer will take over, but TOM reminds her that she has the control. TOM interviews several people about computers, and introduces a special summer camp in California that teaches campers how to use and code on a computer.

An early example of how computer animation was created using dancers hooked up to machines.

TOM then introduces how animation is done with computers, with the earliest example going back to Lee Harrison in 1960, with dancers wired to computers to capture the motion. He then goes through the advancements over the decades, and explains how we are then at 3-D animation. The consensus from artists is that computers will not replace creativity, but enhance it. Another animator relays the story of his search for a design machine, and then realized that he would have to create it. TOM then shows the graphical designs by the computer in a long, colorful segment. The segment then moves into how the computer can create special sound effects, or even create a “one-man band” through the use of a synthesizer known as the Fairlight CMI.

As Joyce remarks that she has the freedom to move TOM doesn’t because she is a dancer, TOM remarks that the computer has made advances in human understanding of human movement. The engineer talks about the difference between different types of athletic events and movements, ranging from dancing to diving. The engineers use the computer to look at the styles of two dancers and to determine the dancers’ centers of gravity. They see a flaw in one of the dancers’ takeoff and advise her how to correct it. After seeing this, Joyce thinks that her career as an artist is over due to technology. TOM informs her that he is powerless without her, and need her creativity. TOM then explains that computer games are the first foray into using computers, and shows several titles such as Pac-Man and Frogger. The segment also shows how computers created the look of Tron and its several games. Joyce finally accepts that the computer is the partner of the artist, rather than the adversary. The special ends with Joyce dancing alongside a computer animated counterpart.

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