As We May Think…1945

Ideas and theories are limited by the endless imagination of the human mind.  To physically manifest these thoughts the inventor or scientist is limited by the latest technological innovations all ready existence.  Dr. Vannevar Bush used a perfect analogy describing this exact dilemma.  If for what ever reason a Pharaoh in ancient Egypt was handed the blue prints to an automobile, he would not be able to create a single working one.  The knowledge of metallurgy, physics and current technology (ancient Egyptian tool kit) were not advanced enough to create the thousands of precisely tuned interactive components that make up an automobile.

He is clearly aware of the limitations of his time, but his crystal ball speculations make due rather well, I must add, with what was available to him.  Dr. Bush places much emphasis on miniaturization, especially when talking about the modern camera and sound recording and playback equipment.

He also discusses in great depth the modern file system, regarding file storage, in the form of a punch card run machine called a memex.  The memex was the crystal ball concept for a “mechanized private file and library” storage system.  And finally last but not least, there is the magnetic strip charge card, you know that small plastic thing with the “Visa” logo.  Dr. Bush describes the cards to be miniature and transaction records “on the card may be made by magnetic dots on a steel sheet”.  Definitely a rather primitive and crude version of a device, today, we wouldn’t leave home without.  The ideas were here but the current technology was lacking.

I have two points that I want to bring up regarding his limitations.  Everything Dr. Bush describes incorporates metal gears and metal based photography film.  Plastic, a nifty little German invention, was available to scientists in the United States at the time.  Granted at the time too, plastic was still taxing and expensive to manufacture.  However, as innovative as Dr. Bush’s ideas may sound, he did not once make use of this extremely versatile and revolutionary compound.  His mind (regarding manufacture) remains grounded in his times of metal and film.

The second point that I would like to address is that, even though the television and telephone already existed, Dr. Bush failed to mention any form of networking among his memex machines, besides the millennia old face-to-face.  Dr. Bush described in detail the capabilities of the desk computer file storage library, or memex, even as to incorporate a rudimental page scrolling system.  What if a machine of such capabilities where incorporated with the telephone or facsimile machine…the Internet of the 1940’s?


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