“This Stuff Is Hard”—Steve Jobs

A Telegram From The Past

In 1983, Steve Jobs gave a speech to the International Design Conference in Aspen. The theme of that year’s conference was “The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be”. It is astounding to hear how confidently he spoke of the future.

It is amazing to hear Steve Jobs talk about some things that were not fully realized until only just about the last few years. This talks shows just how incredibly ahead of his time he was. To put that in perspective, the Macintosh had not yet been introduced, Apple still thought the Lisa was going to be a hit, and the IBM PC was the second most popular personal computer behind the Apple II series. Of course there was no iPhone, no Siri and Steve was to go on to get fired and rehired at Apple. Apple was just 7 years old.

Mathew Panzarino, now editor-in-chief at TechCrunch also covered this recording in 2012 [1].



This is a powerful talk and Steve at his best.  He commands his subject matter in a brilliant way:

Here is an summary of his talk and Q & A:

  • “How many people are older than 36 years old? You are a product of the TV generation, anyone younger is part of the computer generation”
  • Few people in the audience owned an Apple Computer in 1983.
  • “Computers are really dumb but really fast”
  • “Computers are so fast they are like magic”
  • “The electric motor was originally designed for industrial use, now there are over 55 electric motors in the home now” as a computer in the home analogy.
  • “By 1986 we will ship more computers than automobiles”
  • “I need your help. The industry will ship 10 millions computers by 1986 even if they look like shit.”
  • “We have blown it, most of the electronic items are not designed in the US”
  • “Computers are a new medium, what happens is we fall back to the old medium at the start”
  • “We are in the I Love Lucy stage of computers”
  • “I can make a drawing on Lisa and someone in Austin can dial up and look at it”
  • Compares computer programming to television programming.
  • “The thing that kept me out of jail was books”
  • People will be spending more time interacting with personal computers than with cars.
  • We are all on a “first date” with personal computers evolve we will get more closer to the technology.
  • Personal computer are a medium of communication with early email systems changing communication. “Computers with radio links can allow you to pick up their email anywhere”.
  • Experiment done by MIT that predict Google Street View maps with research in Aspen, Colorado, coincidently where he held this lecture.
  • “We are about 5 years away from solving networking in the office and 10-15 years from solving networking in the home.”
  • “Apple’s strategy is to put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you that you can learn how to use in 20 minutes.”
  • “We could put a piece of garbage computer in a book, we won’t do that”
  • Software development industry to the record industry, people didn’t necessarily know what computer they wanted to buy. However a record store was a different experience because they heard the songs by listening to the radio. The software industry needed something like a radio station so that people could sample software before they buy it.  Paying for software in an automated fashion over the phone lines with credit cards is the iTunes store. 
  • We hire extremely talented and creative people at Apple.  “We hire people to tell us what to do”. The idea is hiring at a technology is not about a “good fit” but people that challenge everything on a daily basis. Organized chaos that pushes a company to the edge where startups occupy. Additionally Steve was able to get the best and brightest to do things they thought were not possible. And not fall in to what he called “Cover your ass mode” of playing it safe.
  • Right at the end of the Q&A session, a question is asked about voice recognition, which he believed was the better part of a decade away from reality. Given the context of Siri today, it is interesting to hear him talk about the difficultly of recognizing language vs voice because language is contextually driven. He says, “This stuff is hard”.

This long lost talk was Steve at his most confidant at the precipice of the PC revolution, the smartphone revolution and the Voice First (Shop) evolution. He intersected them all in 1983.



[1] https://thenextweb.com/apple/2012/10/02/rare-full-recording-of-1983-steve-jobs-speech-reveals-apple-had-been-working-on-ipad-for-27-years/#.tnw_o6CHZdPl

(Steve Jobs Image: Matthew Yohe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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