As We May Think – Reflection

As We May Think – Vennevar Bush, The Atlantic. July 1945

“They are illuminating the interactions of his physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an improved mental health.” (section 1, para 1)

This struck me, because while it sounds awesome, it is also a horrifying topic. The US gave immunity to Unit 731 scientists who perpetrated ghastly human experimentation, because the government/military wanted the data. In Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the participants weren’t told their diagnosis—and after penicillin became known as a treatment (~1943) none of the participants were ever treated. Worse the “study” continued into the 1970s.

“At a recent World Fair a machine called a Voder was shown. A girl stroked its keys and it emitted recognizable speech. No human vocal chords entered into the procedure at any point; the keys simply combined some electrically produced vibrations and passed these on to a loud-speaker. In the Bell Laboratories there is the converse of this machine, called a Vocoder. The loudspeaker is replaced by a microphone, which picks up sound. Speak to it, and the corresponding keys move.” (section 3, para 2)

The Vocoder is an interesting piece of tech. As a history teacher, it bridges events happening in the interwar/WWII era with innovations happening today. In particular, it brings to mind accommodations such as speech-to-text or text-to-speech.

“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.” (section 6, para 4)

I was really interested by Bush’s memex ramble. It reminds me of seeing communicators in Star Trek – life imitating art. I also think he is making a good point. Information sciences had to evolve, and are still evolving. Look at projects like Mapping the Republic of Letters. Something that scope couldn’t have been done without the digital database technology.

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