Vannevar Bush, a great predictor

While reading As We May Think, I was deeply intrigued by the author Vannevar Bush’s prescient prediction of the possible direction and extent of technology development and his brilliant ension of the system “memex” by simulating human mind which represents the idea of association of knowledge.

Although Bush wrote this essay in the 1930s, almost eighty years ago, he did a great job pointing out what should be further developed and what was destined to be advanced. The example of photography is a very persuasive one. He wrote, “Certainly progress in photography is not going to stop. The camera hound of the future wears on his forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut…There is film in the walnut for a hundred exposures…It produces its result in full color. It may well be stereoscopic, for striking improvements in stereoscopic technique are just around the corner.” We naturally think about today’s digital cameras. We can look at the pictures immediately after they are taken and the “dry photography” that Bush was thinking about was realized. Bush also wrote that, “The Encyclopedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk” Actually we’ve gone farther today but he was definitely on the right track. We have scan disks today, which is far smaller than a matchbox.

The “memex”, which stands for memory extender, is one of the major contributions of Bush, although it wasn’t quite recognized of its value shortly after the term was posited. Bush wrote,” Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library.” His suggestion is widely taken use of today. We have facebook, aplia, sakai, delicious, and many digital resource centers that followed his idea of association of knowledge.

Bush would be very pleased if he could see his visions being realized today. All kinds of inventions come from our visions. He knew that and we should know it, too.

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