'We predicted how the internet would change our lives - in 1983'

A GROUP of whiz kids who first met 25 years ago predicting a brave new future for the computer age is still going after a revolution in technology

Marc Mullen

A GROUP of whiz kids who first met 25 years ago predicting a brave new future for the computer age is still going after a revolution in technology.

The North London BBC Micro Users Group held its first gathering on March 9, 1983, at The Prince of Wales pub in West Hampstead.

It was at a time when the BBC computer's 32 kilobytes of memory put it at the forefront of computing.

The venue has moved to The Gatehouse pub in Highgate, but meetings are still held every Tuesday at 9pm.

Ernest Bebbington has been a member since the start. He said: "The number of people has dwindled from a high of about 40, because whilst more people have computers the interest in computing has declined.

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"When we got together originally it was to share an interest in programming."

He added: "The changes have been enormous in 25 years. My first computer was four kilobytes. Now computers are thousands if not millions of times faster.

"The biggest change has been the internet. If you go back 25 years people were just talking about connecting computers up and communicating, but now that's the big thing."

Acorn launched the BBC model A computer in 1980 to coincide with the broadcaster's computer literacy television series. The model B was launched later and used almost universally in British schools from its birth into the 1990s.

The Highgate group has gone from being at the vanguard of the digital revolution to becoming an old-fashioned throwback of real-life interaction. Instead of emailing an expert for advice on computer problems or downloading their answers, they meet and discuss them over a pint.

Members also help solve each other's programming, hardware and games problems.

Dr Leo McLaughlin, also one of the original members, said: "It is quite amazing that it is still going. It is a great social environment for people who are interested in computers and computing.

"It is interesting that something so simple and informal has gone on for so long."

He added: "It is amazing how different it was back then. We had 100 kilobytes of memory on our disk, but now I can just pick up 15 gigabytes in a flash card."

The Ham&High published an article on the group in 1984. In it, Dr McLoughlin suggested what now sounds uncannily like the internet, years before the public was to become aware of it.

He outlined an age when university students could access information "from California or anywhere in the world".

Looking back on his comments this week, Dr McLoughlin said: "What is most amazing when you look at the article is what we were predicting for the future."