“As We May Think” + Hypertext Response to Memex

In his 1945 article “As We May Think,” Vannevar Bush basically envisioned the personal desktop computer, the internet, search engines, search history, scanners, and a whole lot more. It’s the end of WWII and he declares it’s time for the world’s scientists to stop focusing on making nukes, and to start thinking about ways to make all of the world’s knowledge easily accessible. Bush believes that access to knowledge—including our “shady past”—will basically help us achieve world peace. How? Well microfilm is getting so micro that he reasons the ability to compress “a billion books” in a way that could be easily copied and distributed to all in not so far off…

Bush’s groundbreaking concept is a “Memex” that would extend human memory to provide access to an index of all human information. He describes something called “trails” that would mimic the way the human brain links things together by association. The process seems to have an aspect of automation, but it is clearly steered by a human who defines the creative aspect or search term or other parameters, then sets the machine off to gather some information while the human digests the infos. Trails are then stored for later use, which makes me imagine a hybrid of a search history and an automatically-generated reading list—a nifty way to organize information. Bush believes that if we can reach a point where machines do the heavy lifting of computing and recalling the material, humans—including scientists and mathematicians—will be much more creative and productive.

I wonder what Bush would make of the Internet where his article is distributed for free on-demand along with billions of other artifacts of the human race. To to make this week’s reading more fun and interactive, I made this hypertext response.

As We May Think

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