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Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush
This nOde last updated March 23rd, 2002 and is permanently morphing...
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Bush, Vannevar

Bush (b¢sh), Vannevar
American internal linkelectrical engineer and physicist who designed (1928) the differential analyzer, an early computer, and directed the World War II effort to develop the first atomic bomb.

Bush, Vannevar

Bush, Vannevar (1890-1974), American scientist, educator, and administrator, born in Everett, Massachusetts. From 1919 to 1971 Bush worked and taught at internal linkMassachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). There he invented the differential analyzer, a forerunner of the modern computer. Bush is best known for his scientific work with various government organizations, including the national internal linkDefense Research Committee, which he chaired.


Vannevar Bush (1890-1974), U.S. electrical engineer, physicist. Science Is Not Enough, "The Search for Understanding" (1967). Vannevar Bush was a zealous believer in the "missionary" function of science: during World War II, he led the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, directing such programs as the development of the first atomic bomb.

Technology, 1930

A "differential analyzer" devised by Vannevar Bush and some colleagues is the first analog computer.

Communications and Media, 1922

U.S. electrical engineer Vannevar Bush, 32, helps start a company to produce the S-tube, a gaseous rectifier developed by inventor C. G. Smith that greatly improves the system of supplying internal linkelectricity to radios.

Science, 1941

The Office of Scientific Research and Development created by President Roosevelt June 28 is headed by Vannevar Bush (see analog computer, 1930).

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vannevar /van'*-var/ /n./

A bogus technological prediction or a foredoomed engineering concept, esp. one that fails by implicitly assuming that technologies develop linearly, incrementally, and in isolation from one another when in fact the learning curve tends to be highly nonlinear, revolutions are common, and competition is the rule. The prototype was Vannevar Bush's prediction of 'electronic brains' the size of the internal linkEmpire State Building with a Niagara-Falls-equivalent cooling system for their tubes and relays, a prediction made at a time when the semiconductor effect had already been demonstrated. Other famous vannevars have included magnetic-internal linkbubble  internal linkmemory, LISP machines, videotex, and a paper from the late 1970s that computed a purported ultimate limit on areal density for ICs that was in fact less than the routine densities of 5 years later.
 - from _The New internal linkHacker's Dictionary_atomjacked inventory cache by internal linkEric S. Raymond 

New Hacker's Dictionary by Eric S. Raymond

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Vannvar Bush

Vannevar Bush

Vannevar Bush (1890-1974) is the pivotal figure in internal linkhypertext research. His conception of the Memex introduced, for the first time, the idea of an easily accessible, individually configurable storehouse of knowledge. internal linkDouglas Engelbart and Ted Nelson were directly inspired by his work, and, in particular, his ground-breaking article, "As We May Think."  Bush did his undergraduate work at Tufts College, where he later taught. His master's thesis (1913) included the invention of the Profile Tracer, used in surveying work to measure distances over uneven ground. In 1919, he joined MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering,  where he stayed for twenty-five years. In 1932, he was appointed vice-president and dean. At this time, Bush worked on optical and photocomposition devices, as well as a machine for rapid selection from banks of microfilm.

Further positions followed: president of the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC (1939); chair of National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (1939); director of Office of Scientific Research and Development. This last role was a presidential appointment which made him responsible for the 6,000 scientists involved in the war effort.  During World War II, Bush worked on radar internal linkantenna profiles and the calculation of artillery firing tables. The mathematics involved was complicated and repetitive. Bush proposed the development of an analogue computer; this became the Rockefeller Differential Analyser.

Unfortunately, his research was rendered obsolete by 1950 with the invention of the internal linkdigital computer. It is ironic that one of the heroes of today's computer researchers was defeated in his own work by the predecessor of those selfsame computers.Bush is most famous for his Memex, publicised in the aforementioned article in Atlantic Monthly (1945) and most readily available in Nyce and Kahn. Yet this same article also contained descriptions of devices rarely cited. These include the Cyclops Camera: "worn on forehead, it would photograph anything you see and want to record. Film would be developed at once by dry photography;" advances in microfilm; a thinking machine (actually a mathematical calculator); and a vocoder, "a machine which could type when talked to".

þ 1995 Christopher Keep, Tim McLaughlin, robin robin.escalation@ACM.org

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According to Bush, the main problem lies withwhat he termed "the matter of selection" -- internal linkinformation retrieval -- and the primary reason that those who need information cannot find it lies in turn with inadequate means of storing, arranging, and tagging information:

Our ineptitude in getting at the recordis 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 inormation is found (when it is) by tracingit own 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 arecumbersome. Having found one item,moreover, one has to emerge from the system  and re-enter on a new path.   As Ted Nelson, one of Bush's most prominent disciples, points out, "there is nothing wrong with categorization. It is, however, by its nature internal linktransient: category systems have a half-life, and categorizations begin to look fairly stupid after a few years. . . . The army designation of 'Pong Balls, internal linkPing' has a certain universal character to it" ( Literary Machines , 2/49).

In contrast to the rigidity and difficulty ofaccess produced by present means of managing information based on print and other physicalrecords, one needs an information medium that better accommodates to the way the mindworks. After describing present methods of storing and classifying knowledge, Bush complains,"The human mind does not work that way" ("AsWe May Think," ) but by association. Withone fact or idea "in its grasp," the mind"snaps instantly to the next that is suggested bythe association of thoughts, in accordancewith some intricate web of trails carried by the cellsof the brain".

To liberate us from the confinements ofinadequate systems of classification and topermit us to follow natural proclivities for "selectionby association, rather than by indexing,"Bush therefore proposes a device, the "memex,"that would mechanize a more efficient, morehuman, mode of manipulating fact and internal linkimagination. "A memex," he explains, "is a device in which an individual stores his books, records, andcommunications, and which is mechanized sothat it may be consulted with exceeding speed andflexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his internal linkmemory". Writing in the days beforeinternal linkdigital computing (the first idea for a memex came to him in the mid-1930s), Bush conceived of his device as a desk with translucent screens, levers, and motors for rapid searching of microform records.

In addition to thus searching and retrievinginformation, the memex also permits the reader to "add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme, such as is now employed in the telautograph seen in railroad waiting rooms, just as though he had the physical page before him". Two things demand attention about this crucial aspect of Bush's conception of the memex: First, he believes that while reading, one needs to append one's own individual, transitory thoughts and reactions to texts.

With this emphasis Bush in other words reconceives reading as an active internal linkprocess that involves writing. Second, his remark that this active,intrusive reader can annotate a text "just as though he had the physical page before him" recognizesthe need for a conception of a virtual, ratherthan a physical, text. One of the things thatis so intriguing about Bush's proposal is the wayhe thus allows the shortcomings of one formof text to suggest a new technology, and that leads,in turn, to an entirely new conception of text.

The "essential feature of the memex," however, lies not only in its capacities for retrieval and annotation but also in those involving "associative indexing" -- what presenthypertext systems term a link -- "the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select internal linkimmediately and automatically another" . Bush then provides a scenario of how readers would create "endless trails" of such links:

When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name in his code book,  and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him are the two items to be joined, projected  onto adjacent viewing positions. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank  code spaces, and a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each item. The user taps a single key, and the items arepermanently joined. In each code space appears the  code word. Out of view, but also in the code space, is inserted a set of dots for photocell viewing; and on each itemthese dots by their positions designate theindex number of the other item. Thereafter, atany time, when one of these items is in  view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button below the  corresponding code space.

Bush's remarkably prescient description ofhow the memex user creates and then followslinks joins his major recognition that trails ofsuch links themselves constitute a new formof textuality and new form of writing. As heexplains, "when numerous items have been thusjoined together to form a trail . . . It isexactly as though the physical items had beengathered together from widely separated sources andbound together to form a new book." In fact,"it is more than this," Bush adds, "for any item canbe joined into numerous trails", andthereby any block of text, image, or otherinformation can participate in numerous books.

These new memex books themselves, it becomesclear, are the new book, or one additionalversion of the new book, and, like books,these trail sets or webs can be shared. Bushproposes, again quite accurately, that "wholly newforms of encyclopedias will appear,ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified". Equally important,individual reader-writers can share documentsets and apply them to new problems.

Bush, an engineer interested in technicalinnovation, provides the example of a memexuser studying why the short Turkish bow wasapparently superior to the English long bowin the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens ofpossibly pertinent books and articles in hismemex. First he runs through an encyclopedia,finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items.

Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own,either linking it into the main trail or joining itby a side trail to a particular item. When itbecomes evident that the elastic properties ofavailable materials had a great deal to dowith the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through extbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the internal linkmaze of materials available to him.

And, Bush adds, his researcher's memex trails, unlike those in his mind, "do not fade," so when he and a friend several years later discuss "the queer ways in which a people resist innovations, even of vital interest", he can reproduce his trails created to investigate one subject or problem and apply them to another.

- George P. Landow

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"The advanced arithmetical machines of the future will be internal linkelectrical in nature, and they will perform at 100 times present speeds, or more.

Such machines will have enormous appetites. One of them will take instructions and data from a roomful of girls armed with simple keyboard punches, and will deliver sheets of computed results every few minutes.

There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things. "

Vannevar Bush
"As We May Think"
Atlantic Monthly, 1945

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