- Michael K. Buckland
- Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex
- Journal of the American Society for Information Science, vol. 43, no. 4 (May 1992): 284-294.  (This text may vary slightly from the published version.)
- Postscript 19 February 2009: For a more detailed and more up-to-date account see the biography: M. Buckland. Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine. Libraries Unlimited, 2006. ISBN 0-313-31332-6, esp. chaps 14 & 19.
- Vannevar Bush's famous paper "As We May Think" (1945) described an imaginary information retrieval machine, the Memex. The Memex is usually viewed, unhistorically, in relation to subsequent developments using digital computers. This paper attempts to reconstruct the little-known background of information retrieval in and before 1939 when "As We May Think" was originally written. The Memex was based on Bush's work during 1938-1940 developing an improved photoelectric microfilm selector, an electronic retrieval technology pioneered by Emanuel Goldberg of Zeiss Ikon, Dresden, in the 1920s. Visionary statements by Paul Otlet (1934) and Walter Schuermeyer (1935) and the development of electronic document retrieval technology before Bush are examined.
After World War II, Coombs, Howard, and Steinhardt worked together at Engineering Research Associates (ERA) in St Paul, Minnesota (Tomasch, 1980). Bush was approached by his former students, now at ERA, for support for further work on microfilm selectors. Eventually the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a contract to ERA to build a new microfilm selector. A librarian, Ralph Shaw, then Director of the National Agriculture Library, was funded to encode test material and to test the new ERA machine. Carroll Wilson, who had handled Bush's patents at MIT and was now at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), is said to have arranged for the AEC to provide funding to the Department of Commerce for microfilm selector development (Coile, 1990; Engineering Research Associates, 1949; Pike & Bagg, 1962). [emphasis not original]
Shaw told Goldberg that he had been unaware of Goldberg's work and subsequently mentioned Goldberg's patent (E. Goldberg, 1931) in his two principal papers on the ERA microfilm selector (Shaw, 1949a; 1949b). Later Robert Fairthorne (1958) discussed "As We May Think" in the Computer Journal. Fairthorne was critical of Bush's ideas, commented that "few of his suggestions were original," and also mentioned Goldberg's prior work. Fairthorne's paper was reprinted in his book Towards information retrieval (1961, 135-146). In 1960, Hawkins, writing in a book edited by Shaw, states:
- "Shaw credited Dr. E. Goldberg with the first practical application of electronics to the selection of data on film and Dr. Vannevar Bush with the basic principles of organization of knowledge and the basic electronic system used in the Rapid Selector." (Hawkins, 1960, 145). [my emphasis]
Vannevar Bush's contributions in this area were two-fold: (i) A significant engineering achievement by the team under his leadership in building a truly rapid prototype microfilm selector; and (ii) a speculative article, "As We May Think," which, through its skillful writing and the social prestige of the author, has had an immediate and lasting effect in stimulating others. As Fairthorne observed, Bush's paper was timely and "opened people's eyes and purses." [my emphasis]
- Other sources
In 1922, Bush, his college roommate, Laurence Marshall, and a colleague of Bush from the company Amrad (a small company for radio devices, where Vannevar served as a consultant), Charles G. Smith, set up the Metals and Controls Corporation, for producing thermostats and thermionic tubes. Later the company managed to market successfully a device, called the S-tube. This was a gaseous rectifier, invented by Charles Smith (the patent was purchased by Amrad), that greatly improved the efficiency of radios, eliminating the need for radio batteries. Bush made much money from the venture. The company, renamed Raytheon in 1925, became a large electronics company and defense contractor, and still exist now as a major American defense contractor and industrial corporation. [my emphasis]
Bush also worked on developing machines that would automate human thinking. Specialization in just about every field of science was creating a glut of information. Something was needed to help sort through the growing store of accumulated knowledge. In the 1930s microfilm, which had been around for some decades, was growing in popularity as a storage device, especially among librarians. Bush, who was a photography enthusiast, was quite interested in this resurgent technology. He proposed to build a machine for the FBI that could review 1000 fingerprints a minute. They however turned him down. In 1938 Bush and John Howard built and patented the rapid selector, a machine designed for high-speed referencing of information, stored on microfilm. In 1945 Bush wrote an article, describing a device (called memex), the prototype of the modern hypertext systems. [my emphasis]
In 1919, Vannevar Bush joined the electrical engineering department at MIT. In 1923, he was made Professor of Electric Power Transmission. Throughout the late 20s and early 30s, Bush and his students developed the differential analyser, a mechanical device that used a variety of complex gears and other analog tools to solve differential equations with as many as 18 variables. This was inspired by Charles Babbage's difference engine, and was an obvious precursor to the modern-day digital computer.
By 1932, Vannevar Bush was appointed Vice President of MIT and Dean of the School of Engineering. Throughout the 1930s, he focused on the information-storage capacity of microfilm, and in 1938, developed and patented a device called the rapid selector, another precursor to computers and the Internet. This device quickly shuffled between microfilm cartridges, displaying their contents on a screen. He referred to this as a "device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility." This device became commonly known as a Memex. [my emphasis]
Vannevar Bush was elected President of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C., in 1938, one of the greatest scientific establishments in the world at the time. He influenced President Roosevelt to focus more attention on science, forging a relationship between science and the government that persists to this day. In 1940 he was appointed Chairman of the President's National Defense Research Committee, which oversaw the Manhattan Project and many other important research projects during WWII. As WWII ended, Vannevar Bush proposed the creation of a fundamental alliance between the government, business, and academia, eventually resulting in the creation of the National Science Foundation.
Related topics : Day The Universe Changed
Vannevar Bush is credited by many as the best engineer of the 20th century, and the greatest champion of science since Einstein.
- ``The title includes an intentional pun; in English How the World Was Won would sound exactly the same.``
- Cf. How the West Was Won (disambiguation)
Paul Davies (1992).
The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World, Simon & Schuster
- ``There is every reason to think that famous Einsteinisms like 'God is subtle but he is not malicious' or 'He does not play dice' or 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' are pantheistic, not deistic, and certainly not theistic. 'God does not play dice' should be translated as 'Randomness does not lie at the heart of all things.' 'Did God have a choice in creating the Universe?' means 'Could the universe have begun in any other way?' Einstein was using 'God' in a purely metaphorical, poetic sense. So is Stephen Hawking, and so are most of those physicists who occasionally slip into the language of religious metaphor. Paul Davies's The Mind of God seems to hover somewhere between Einsteinian pantheism and an obscure form of deism - for which he was rewarded with the Templeton Prize (a very large sum of money given annually by the Templeton Foundation, usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion). . . .`` -- from Chapter One of Richard Dawkins (2006) The God Delusion
Hubert Dreyfus (1992).
What Computers Still Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason
- The End of History and the Last Man
- a book expanding on his 1989 essay "The End of History?" The National Interest
- ``What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.`` (1989)
- Cf. Samuel P. Huntington (1996) The Clash of Civilizations
- Literate Programming
- CSLI Lecture Notes, no. 27, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford, California
- in: Mind Matters Symposium, May 26, 1992
- died July 19, 1992 (aged 65)
- Mind Matters: A Tribute to Allen Newell (1996)
- Unified Theories of Cognition (1990)
- The ZOG Approach to Man-Machine Communication (1979)
- ZOG was an early hypertext system developed at Carnegie Mellon University during the 1970s by Donald L. McCracken and Robert M. Akscyn. ZOG was first developed by Allen Newell and George G. Robertson to serve as the front end for AI and Cognitive Science programs brought together at CMU for a summer workshop. The ZOG project was as an outgrowth of long-term artificial intelligence research led by Allen Newell and funded by the Office of Naval Research.
- KMS (hypertext), a 1981 spinoff from ZOG
- Knowledge management system
Parker Rossman (1992).
The Emerging Worldwide Electronic University: Information Age Global Higher Education, Greenwood Press.
- Truth and Objectivity
- Waynflete Lectures, given at Oxford
- In general metaphysics, this is his most important work. He argues that there need be no single, discourse-invariant context in which truth consists, making an analogy with identity. There need only be some principles regarding which the truth predicate can be applied to a sentence, some 'platitudes' about true sentences. Wright also argues that in some contexts, probably including moral contexts, superassertibility will effectively function as a truth predicate. He defines a predicate as superassertible if it is assertible in some state of information and then remains so no matter how that state of information is enlarged upon or improved. Assertibility is warrant by whatever standards inform the discourse in question.