Vannevar Bush’s article, As We May Think (1), argues that science should help produce technology for the progress of mankind and not for the destruction of it. He envisioned that such technology would become widely available and very useful to humans in the future. Even the technology he described in his article resembles the technology we have today, like:
– Polaroid or digital camera
– Voice recorder or speech synthesizer (one of the first being the VODER)(2)
– The Internet
Despite the resemblance, I found that the technology he mentioned in his article was useful to humans in different ways. The technology he mentioned could either assist humans in their work or replace the work humans used to do.
Technology to Assist Humans
Bush had ideas of how technology could be used to assist humans in their work. One technology he envisioned that could be used to aid in research is the Memex. According to Bush the Memex was:
A device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and … is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. (1)
The Memex was basically an electronic library, containing full articles, books, encyclopedias, newspapers, photos, and other media. Not only could the Memex aid in researching a variety of topics, it could enable the user to connect to other sources related to the topic. Interestingly, I found that the Memex was strikingly similar to today’s Internet and how it is used for research. The internet has the same resources like the Memex, including video, sounds, and websites, and has become a valuable resource in man’s quest for knowledge.
Technology to Replace Humans
Bush then formulated ideas of how technology could be used to replace the work that is done by hand. He mentioned how a device could be created using the process of sorting and selection. Bush explained by writing:
This process, however, is simple selection: it proceeds by examining in turn every one of a large set of items, and by picking out those which have certain specified characteristics. (1)
Document filing is a good example for the use of such a device. Bush mentioned that work could be done quickly and efficiently when this device, which may function similar to today’s computers, is put into use.
So humans can take files from a file cabinet…
…and put them on a device like today’s computer…
…where they can quickly store, file, sort, and display documents, cutting out most of the work that was once done by hand.
1) No paper folders and file cabinets
2) No file clerks or secretaries to go through file cabinets
3) Paper documents can be transferred into a digital entity, or file
4) Technology, like today’s computer, can store such files in a file system where it can be sorted and selected at any given time
I don’t know if Bush ever saw ideas on future technology to assist or replace humans in the day-to-day work come to fruition, but such ideas and the technology built on these ideas did become quite useful to humans and helped mankind make progress.
(1) Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think.” The Atlantic, July 1945. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/?single_page=true