Saturday, December 16, 2017 Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.

Vannevar Bush (1890 – 1974)


American engineer and science administrator known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb as a primary organizer of the Manhattan Project, the founding of Raytheon, and the idea of the memex which later inspired the creation of hypertext and the World Wide Web.
Vannevar Bush
Bush is responsible for the whole architecture of government support for science. Today, everyone thinks these terrific innovations came from the minds of bright kids, but they don't realize that these kids needed an environment to be in. It came from Bush. He said, "Give these people money, let them play, and they'll come up with something."
Bush quotes
Adding a column of figures is a repetitive thought process, and it was long ago properly relegated to the machine. True, the machine is sometimes controlled by the keyboard, and thought of a sort enters in reading the figures and poking the corresponding keys, but even this is avoidable.
Bush
To make the record, we now push a pencil or tap a typewriter. Then comes the process of digestion and correction, followed by an intricate process of typesetting, printing, and distribution. To consider the first stage of the procedure, will the author of the future cease writing by hand or typewriter and talk directly to the record?




Bush Vannevar quotes
To be able to key one sheet of a million before an operator in a second or two, with the possibility of then adding notes thereto, is suggestive in many ways. It might even be of use in libraries, but that is another story. At any rate, there are now some interesting combinations possible. One might, for example, speak to a microphone, in the manner described in connection with the speech-controlled typewriter, and thus make his selections. It would certainly beat the usual file clerk.
Bush Vannevar
The advanced arithmetical machines of the future will be electrical in nature, and they will perform at 100 times present speeds, or more.
Moreover, they will be far more versatile than present commercial machines, so that they may readily be adapted for a wide variety of operations. They will be controlled by a control card or film, they will select their own data and manipulate it in accordance with the instructions thus inserted, they will perform complex arithmetical computations at exceedingly high speeds, and they will record results in such form as to be readily available for distribution or for later further manipulation.
Vannevar Bush quotes
Science has a simple faith, which transcends utility. Nearly all men of science, all men of learning for that matter, and men of simple ways too, have it in some form and in some degree. It is the faith that it is the privilege of man to learn to understand, and that this is his mission. If we abandon that mission under stress we shall abandon it forever, for stress will not cease. Knowledge for the sake of understanding, not merely to prevail, that is the essence of our being. None can define its limits, or set its ultimate boundaries.
Vannevar Bush
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.
Bush Vannevar quotes
Science, by itself, provides no panacea for individual, social, and economic ills. It can be effective in the national welfare only as a member of a team, whether the conditions be peace or war. But without scientific progress no amount of achievement in other directions can insure our health, prosperity, and security as a nation in the modern world.
Bush
Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields, by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an examination calculated to show how much of the previous month's efforts could be produced on call. Mendel's concept of the laws of genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in the mass of the inconsequential.
Bush Vannevar
The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only at the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. The inheritance from the master becomes, not only his additions to the world's record, but for his disciples the entire scaffolding by which they were erected.
Vannevar Bush
On the wisdom with which we bring science to bear in the war against disease, in the creation of new industries, and in the strengthening of our Armed Forces depends in large measure our future as a nation.




Vannevar Bush quotes
A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.
Vannevar Bush
If scientific reasoning were limited to the logical processes of arithmetic, we should not get far in our understanding of the physical world. One might as well attempt to grasp the game of poker entirely by the use of the mathematics of probability. The abacus, with its beads strung on parallel wires, led the Arabs to positional numeration and the concept of zero many centuries before the rest of the world; and it was a useful tool— so useful that it still exists.
Bush quotes
We puzzle as to whether the universe is bounded or extends forever; whether, indeed, it may only be one universe among many. We speculate as to whether our universe began in a vast explosion, whether it pulsates between utter compression and wide diffusion, whether it is self-renewing and thus unchanged forever. And we are humble.
But science teaches more than this. It continually reminds us that we are still ignorant and there is much to learn. Time and space are interconnected in strange ways; there is no absolute simultaneity. Within the atom occur phenomena concerning which visualization is futile, to which common sense, the guidance from our everyday experience, has no application, which yield to studies by equations that have no meaning except that they work. Mass and energy transform one into another, Gravitation, the solid rock on which Newton built, may be merely a property of the geometry of the cosmos. Life, as its details unfold before us, becomes ever more intricate, emphasizing more and more our wonder that its marvelous functioning could have been produced by chance and time. The human mind, merely in its chemical and physical aspects, takes on new inspiring attributes.
And what is the conclusion? 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. Exhortation needs to be revised, not to weaken its power, but to increase it, for men who are no longer in the third century. As this occurs, and on the essential and central core of faith, science will of necessity be silent.
But its silence will be the silence of humility, not the silence of disdain. A belief may be larger than a fact. A faith that is overdefined is the very faith most likely to prove inadequate to the great moments of life.
Bush Vannevar
As long as scientists are free to pursue the truth wherever it may lead, there will be a flow of new scientific knowledge to those who can apply it to practical problems.
Bush Vannevar quotes
It is Earlier Than We Think.
Vannevar Bush
All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses— the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly?
Vannevar Bush quotes
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.
Vannevar Bush
The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house, and are teaching him to live healthily therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against another with cruel weapons. They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome.
Bush Vannevar
All this is conventional, except for the projection forward of present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing.


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