Spielberg Turns 102: Computing Pioneer Talks About GE's First Digital Blockbuster
February 09, 2019
One day, when he was still barely a teenager, the film director Steven Spielberg came to visit his father, Arnold, at work. It was the late 1950s and the elder Spielberg was building computers for GE in Phoenix. His designs included a revolutionary machine that a group of computer scientists at Dartmouth College later used to write BASIC, the programming language that revolutionized personal computing. “I walked through rooms that were so bright, I recall it hurting my eyes,” Steven Spielberg told GE Reports about the factory. “Dad explained how his computer was expected to perform, but the language of computer science in those days was like Greek to me. It all seemed very exciting, but it was very much out of my reach until the 1980s, when I realized what pioneers like my dad had created were now the things I could not live without.”
Arnold Spielberg, who turned 102 on February 6, may have been a pioneer, but standing in that bright room in Arizona he was in the dark about many things we consider ordinary today. “At the time I never envisioned anything like the internet,” he said when GE Reports visited him at his home in Los Angeles.
Surrounded by photographs with President Barack Obama, Hollywood personalities and family, and framed patent certificates — he received 12 patents in total — Arnold Spielberg talked about computers, his love for science fiction and his work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar.” What follows is an edited version of our discussion.