[unrev-II] Computing’s Johnny Appleseed: J.C.R. Licklider

From: John J. Deneen (jjdeneen@netzero.net)
Date: Fri Sep 21 2001 - 15:15:25 PDT

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    Computing’s Johnny Appleseed
    Almost forgotten today, J.C.R. Licklider mentored the generation that
    created computing as we know it.
    < http://www.technologyreview.com/magazine/jan00/waldrop.asp >

    ... Lick headed SAGE’s human-factors team, and he saw the project as an
    example of how machines and humans could work in partnership. Without
    computers, humans couldn’t begin to integrate all that radar
    information. Without humans, computers couldn’t recognize the
    significance of that information, or make decisions. But together—ah
    yes, together...

    ... He hit the ground running in October 1962. His strategy was to seek
    out the scattered groups of researchers around the country who already
    shared his dream, and nurture their work with ARPA funding. Within
    months, the “ARPA community,” as it came to be known, was taking shape.
    First among equals was Project MAC at MIT, founded with Lick’s
    encouragement as a large-scale experiment in time-sharing and as a
    prototype for the computer utility of the future. MAC—the name stood for
    both “Multi-Access Computer” and “Machine-Aided Cognition”—would also
    incorporate Marvin Minsky’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) Laboratory.
    Other major sites included Stanford, where Lick was funding a new AI
    group under time-sharing inventor John McCarthy; Berkeley, where he had
    commissioned another demonstration of time-sharing; Rand Corp., where he
    was supporting development of a “tablet” for free-hand communication
    with a computer; and Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon University),
    where he was funding Allen Newell, Herbert Simon and Alan Perlis to
    create a “center of excellence” for computer science. Lick had also
    taken a chance on a soft-spoken visionary he barely knew—Douglas
    Engelbart of SRI International—whose ideas on augmenting the human
    intellect with computers closely resembled his own and who had been
    thoroughly ignored by his colleagues. With funding from Lick, and
    eventually from NASA as well, Engelbart would go on to develop the
    mouse, hypertext, on-screen windows and many other features of modern

    The trick, Lick knew, was to create a community in which widely
    dispersed researchers could build on one another’s work instead of
    generating incompatible machines, languages and software. Lick broached
    this issue in an April 1963 memo to “Members and Affiliates of the
    Intergalactic Computer Network”—meaning his principal investigators. The
    solution was to make it extremely easy for people to work together by
    linking all of ARPA’s time-sharing computers into a national system. He

         "If such a network as I envisage nebulously could be brought
         into operation, we would have at least four large computers,
         perhaps six or eight small computers, and a great assortment
         of disc files and magnetic tape units—not to mention the
         remote consoles and teletype stations—all churning away."

    From the modern perspective, this little paragraph is electrifying—it is
    perhaps the first written description of what we now call the Internet.
    But Lick didn’t stop there. Clearly enamored by the idea, he spent most
    of the rest of the memo sketching out how people might use such a
    system. He described a network in which software could float free of
    individual machines. Programs and data would live not on an individual
    computer but on the Net—the essential notion of the Java applets now
    found all over the Web.

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