Vannevar Bush “As We May Think”

It is evident that Dr.Vannevar Bush was ahead of his time, which is exhibited in his July 1945 article “As We May Think.” After the war when scientists were no longer responsible for inventing new warfare tactics or weapons Bush believed that they should channel their abilities to finding ways to make life easier. More specifically he thought they should develop a more efficient way to group data or publications to make it easier to locate. With ever changing technology and constant breakthroughs it’s difficult to keep up with, and easy to over look findings that could potentially be life changing. Bush expresses this when he says, “The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record.” I agree with this because it’s become increasingly easier for people to publish data making it impossible to keep up with it. With the ever progressing research and technology it would be impossible to read through each publication let alone wean out what’s relevant and what isn’t. This could cause breakthroughs or life changing result to be overlooked or at least a serious delay in its findings.

Instead of information being stored by time of publication or alphabetical order Bush thinks “trails” should be made to locate publications. Basically he wants a computer like technology he calls a “memex” operated by people to group like things together, or categorize. The way he described it made me envision one giant memory that the world shares, always expanding but never losing. With a few typed in codes on the keyboard of a memex one should be able to find numerous trails to locate the information one seeks. Along with like data being connected it would be permanent. Bush came to this conclusion of a memex through the fact that the mind works through association. He says that, “One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.” The ability for a machine to build associations is a little disconcerting. Where or should I say when will the machine outsmarts its creator?

Its one thing to create different technologies that make life easier it’s another to create a whole new species. A new species might be slightly dramatic but if we continue to progress at the rate in which we are it’s not too farfetched to think that technology could take over in a sense. These thoughts were provoked when Bush talked about the Vocoder, a device that types what it records. The flaw to this device was our language wasn’t fully recognized by it. He mentions that, “It is strange that the inventors of universal languages have not seized upon the idea of producing one which better fitted the technique for transmitting and recording speech.” When I first read that sentence I misinterpreted it. I thought Bush was saying that we speaking people should alter how we speak to best meet the needs of this device. When reading this article a second time I realized my mistake. The thought however was still there and produced a question. Will there be a day when we alter ourselves to further advance technology? The progression of technology is necessary and obviously from Bush’s article inevitable, I just hope we remain multiple steps ahead of it, before it associates us as the creation and not the creator.

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One thought on “Vannevar Bush “As We May Think”

  1. I like your end by saying “before it associates us as the creation and not the creator”. That’s a very scary point when really thought about. We build up this technology to better suit us and the more liberty we give to it we wind up losing some. I want a study of how many people stay at home on their computer all day. THAT would show the digression of our species.

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