Vannevar Bush is a great name for playing six degrees of separation. Turn back the clock on any aspect of information technology — from the birth of Silicon Valley and the marriage of science and the military to the advent of the World Wide Web — and you find his footprints. As historian Michael Sherry says, "To understand the world of Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, start with understanding Vannevar Bush."
Vannevar Bush March 11, 1890 – June 28, 1974) was an American engineer, inventor and science administrator, who during World War II headed the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD), through which almost all wartime military R&D was carried out, including important developments in radar and the initiation and early administration of the Manhattan Project.He emphasized the importance of scientific research to national security and economic well-being, and was chiefly responsible for the movement that led to the creation of the National Science Foundation.Bush joined the Department of Electrical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1919, and founded the company that became the Raytheon Company in 1922.Bush became vice president of MIT and dean of the MIT School of Engineering in 1932, and president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington in 1938.During his career, Bush patented a string of his own inventions. He is known particularly for his engineering work on analog computers, and for the memex.Starting in 1927, Bush constructed a differential analyzer, an analog computer with some digital components that could solve differential equations with as many as 18 independent variables. An offshoot of the work at MIT by Bush and others was the beginning of digital circuit design theory. The memex, which he began developing in the 1930s (heavily influenced by Emanuel Goldberg's "Statistical Machine" from 1928) was a hypothetical adjustable microfilm viewer with a structure analogous to that of hypertext.The memex and Bush's 1945 essay "As We May Think" influenced generations of computer scientists, who drew inspiration from his vision of the future.
The Encyclopoedia Britannica could be reduced to the volume of a matchbox. A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk.
If the human race has produced since the invention of movable type a total record, in the form of magazines, newspapers, books, tracts, advertising blurbs, correspondence, having a volume corresponding to a billion books, the whole affair, assembled and compressed, could be lugged off in a moving van.
Mere compression, of course, is not enough; one needs not only to make and store a record but also to be able to consult it, and this aspect of the matter comes later. Even the modern great library is not generally consulted; it is nibbled by a few.
Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing. When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass. It can be in only one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, memex will do.
A memex is 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. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
So basically Bush is conceiving hypertext and search engine algorithms, even though the transistor still hasn't been invented (and wouldn't be for another two and a half years). Hell, throw in memes while we're at it.
And please note that Bush was on the board of directors of Bell Labs' parent company when the transistor was revealed to the world.
Bush is crucial to this story because some would claim that he was tasked with running the R+D program that would sort through the material allegedly recovered from "crashed saucers."
Perhaps the most important document ever released in Canada is the Top Secret memo of November 21, 1951 from Wilbert B. Smith, senior radio engineer with the Canadian Department of Transportation. Smith was a highly respected employee, with a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering and several patents to his credit.
Smith’s memo confirms that in 1951 a small group headed by Dr Vannevar Bush was secretly studying the technologies associated with the UFO issue.
No longer can science prove, or even bear evidence. Those who base their personal philosophies or their religion upon science are left, beyond that point, without support.
They end where they began, except that the framework, the background, against which they ponder is far more elaborate, far more probable, than was the evidence when the ancient shepherd guided his flock toward the setting sun, and wondered why he was there and where he was going.Science proves nothing absolutely. On the most vital questions, it does not even produce evidence.
He who follows science blindly, and who follows it alone, comes to a barrier beyond which he cannot see. He who would tell us with the authority of scholarship a complete story of why we exist, of our mission here, has a duty to speak convincingly in a world where men increasingly think for themselves.
Science is not enough if it leads to a materialist reductionism, if it is abused by the state, if its practitioners become arrogant or its nonpractitioners too fearful or dependent on its wisdom.I guess now we know why Vannevar Bush never became a household name, and why so many scientists whose accomplishments were nearly nothing in comparison to his did.
Note: portions of this post were assembled for a never-completed Lucifer's Technologies essay back in 2016.