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1981 IBM introduced its first PC running on the first version of MS-DOS, an early operating system introduced by Microsoft. One of the main features of this operating system was its compatibility with an extended RAM (random-access memory) memory of up to 640K (Kilobytes). 40 years ago that seemed like a huge amount of memory, but by today’s standards, no piece of software can run with only that.

To give you a better presentation, Google Chrome alone takes around 1GB of RAM memory just to operate. That is 1500 times more memory than 40 years ago and the standard today for most devices would be around 10GB of RAM. Back in 1981, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft made the statement that 640K memory of RAM would be enough for anyone, no matter if they run NASA software or just play a game of Solitaire.

Times will change

Isn’t it just interesting how every component in a computer or a device gets smaller in size but keeps having a bigger capacity with each stage of evolution?

Not only that but at each stage, the speed of evolution also increases drastically. In order to perfect each stage at which technology evolves, we need to anticipate what new innovations may come up the way, and with each stage, we are also becoming better at predicting as there is a pattern created that can be better identified by AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Even this year we have seen hardware with an amazing capacity of 1,5 terabytes worth of RAM, keep in mind that there is no piece of software or video game that will ask for more than 24 Gigabytes of RAM in order to run perfectly. This goes to show that we are predicting the future technological needs of consumers as well as acknowledging that times will change.

However, this is something that Bill Gates failed to acknowledge 40 years ago.

The future of computing

You would think that Bill Gates would have acknowledged the potential evolution of technology, at least in the computer industry, 40 years ago but sadly that did not happen.

“640K ought to be enough for anybody” (Bill Gates, 1981)

As the owner of any big tech firm, you need to be seen by your customer base as a visionary, someone who can not only predict the needs of your customer base but also the potential of technology in the future. In 1987, Microsoft introduced a new operating system by the name of MS-DOS 3.03 which actually required 640 Kb of RAM memory to run. I know that we are talking about six years difference, but Gates made his statement thinking that technology stagnated in 1981 and would for the whole decade.

It is true that technology didn’t evolve at the time at the same speed it does today, and as technology keeps advancing so does the speed at which this evolves. It is incredible, in a way, how Bill Gates — who we could say is one of the most important people that made the existence of the technology we have today possible — thought that technology could stop evolving, even for a day.

Even today, we are faced with hardware that can produce enormous computational power, but no software to require such power (despite cryptocurrency mining).

Image by Won-hyoung 김원형 from Pixabay

Once again, we are talking about innovation. Yet, why innovate when “a maximum capacity has been reached”? Like all great people, Gates must have had a moment of doubt, but this would not define why he was so sure that people would not need more than 640 Kb of memory for many years to come.

So what made such a big visionary as Bill Gates stagnate the potential of technology?

This is an idea that would seem more logical then. In our present, taking into account the astounding rhythm of the evolution of technology, any talk of stagnation is challenging to believe. Most of the technology that we are used to was available even at the start of the 21st century. The problem was that mass-producing such technology would have been incredibly expensive.

Today we have some of the technology that was seen only in old science fiction films, but once again, we don’t see it around yet because it is simply too expensive to mass manufacture.

The way that this cost is reduced is through extensive years of research and development which is also one of the biggest expenses in any tech company. Bill Gates should know better than anyone that as long as we invest in developing technology it is impossible to stagnate its capacity, no matter how far we come.

Bill Gates hasn’t yet stated a specific reason for making this assertion, but it is a good thing that social media wasn’t around at the time as he would have lost a lot of credibility due to it.

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