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March 14, 2012

Vannevar Bush: His future, our present

In the last few weeks I've been reading 'Your life, Uploaded' by Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell. The book talks about 'MyLifeBits', one of the Microsoft Research projects. In it, the authors talk about the process of capturing your life digitally. It sounds a bit compulsive to me, but you never know: I used to think texting was something only kids did, and yet I now use text messages to communicate with other folks in our company nearly every day.

Anyway, the book mentioned Vannevar Bush, one of the little known pioneers of the internet who was born in 1890 and who passed away in 1974. It might be a push, but it seems to me he was, to the internet, what FrederickTerman (one of Vannevar's students at MIT) was to Silicon Valley. He lead a fascinating life, serving in the National Research Council in World War I, founded Raytheon, and served as Director of the Office of Scientific Research and development during World War II. In all, an amazing life.

What I find most interesting is an article he published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1945 before the end of the war. In it, he writes about a device he believes will help scientists and researchers index and cross-index their work; he called it a Memex. If you read the article, you'll see he is talking about the technology of today: the internet, highly capable indexing and retrieval technologies, and amazing storage capabilities available to the common man.

It turns out that the Memex was one of the inspirations for Gordon Bell in attempting to digitize his life. Like text messages, it may be new and on the fringe, but it sounds alot like Apple's Knowledge Navigator from the mid-1980s, cloud computing, and some entirely new things rolled into one. Just in time, too, since my memory seems to be less effective every year. Another good reason to write a blog!

What do you think? Was it a lucky guess, or was Bush a true visionary?



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