We live in an amazing time. With little to no effort I can sit at my desk each morning and tell the world how I feel about my life and perhaps what I ate for breakfast this morning. With a few simple clicks I can call up a friend in England from my home in Maine for free. I can get the news from anywhere in the world delivered to me with one simple page of information. I do however go through this technologically savvy age with blinders on, by my own choice. With access to so much information we have started a trend of being inundated with tremendous amounts of useless information. The basic purpose of the internet and our computers, as being tools to share information to advance humanity, is getting lost in a mix of the “TMZ” styled gossip pages and hate groups trying to bring down all of humanity.
OK. While the last sentence maybe over stating things just a bit, it is fair to say we have strayed from the path that was dreamed of by those that came before us.
In the summer of 1945 when Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote “As We May Think” he had great hopes of seeing a future that served its people by sharing as much information as possible to achieve peace. With the WW II winding down, he hoped that other scientists would join him – not in making anymore weapons, but in finding other, more useful ways to serve humanity. It was a struggle to just keep people from leaving science, so Dr. Bush made his case though clearly describing the world we could, one day, live in. Throughout his essay, Bush describes with great accuracy the future, we now live in, including personal computers, i-Pods, the Internet, digital cameras, and so much more. Dr. Bush clearly states how he hopes these new technologies would better serve scientists, police, and librarians.
Sadly I don’t think he ever envisioned a day when all these tools would be designed simply for entertainment purposes. Or how modern terrorists would learn how to use his vision of peace and knowledge as a weapon. As brilliant minds evolve to bring us greater and greater technology, so do the minds of evil. We live in a day where we must watch everything we do online very carefully. Without paying very close attention our identities could be taken. Homegrown terrorists join together and share information through their blogs and their communities, all online. So often we hear of reports where someone learned how to make a device or a weapon on YouTube. We must always be on guard.
In May of 1965 Mr. J. C. R. Licklider wrote for International Science and Technology an article called “The Computers As A Communication Device.” Here again we see a great vision, a scientist who sees a day when we would be communicating and sharing information and technology for the good of our people. Licklider essentially dreamed of the internet as we know it. He saw his vision coming true within six years. He also hoped that one day everyone in the world would computers as communication devices.
Licklider even goes as far as saying “Unemployment would disappear from the face of the earth forever…” I doubt he thought that the internet would begin the end to the newspaper industry and put thousands out of work. He did have a logical plan for the cost of sharing information and perhaps his idea could have saved newspapers. He wrote there would be a cost for the service of sharing information, and a reasonable one too for today’s money, roughly $16/hour. We do pay our providers a fee for using the internet. Cable and DSL make out quite nicely. My personal bill is far more than I would like, but I get all the services I require at great speed. I can only assume that Licklider would have predicted that newspapers charge for their online information. We cannot change the past though.
I do love how he sought out an end to face -to- face meetings or expensive traveling to meet with others and how that could be done over the internet. My boss is currently interviewing job candidates via Skype. Due to budget restraints we cannot afford to fly them to us, so a free video conference is the next best thing. I would still argue, though, to never get so consumed by the internet and social media that we live only though our computers. Interactive communications shouldn’t limit us to just a computer screen. To learn new things and share information we must experience life.
Should the computer itself have a life? Mr. Licklider also ponders the idea of the computer communicating back to us. “When minds interact, new ideas emerge.” The goal here is to speed up the process of fetching us the information we require. I can speak to my Apple computer and tell it to launch a program. Imagine if the computers that we use everyday took in all of the information on the internet to form ideas and to communicate back to us. The day is fast approaching when artificial intelligence can catch up to us and match us at our own level. Could we one day have something like the car from Knight Rider?
Or would we end up with something like “Weird Science”
It is a scary thought to trust that a machine could be program correctly to be interactive and communicate back to us. When you think of ALL of the information that exists on the internet, what comes to mind? We protect our children from it because they need to develop more before they can comprehend and understand it, to rationalize that the information is not all true and that there are people out there who just want to mess with your head. For example, here is a guy whose sole purpose of his website is to be mean to you. You want to avoid guys like this: www.dontevenreply.com/
The bottom line is that we are still in our infant stages. We will look back in five years and laugh at shows like “iCarly” and say “See how out-dated that is!” Hard to imagine now, but we will move on to something more sophisticated than Twitter and Facebook. We will keep growing. The internet and computers will keep evolving. Today anyone can be a writer, musician, photographer, you name it. The internet is wide open to make your dreams come true. The next Dr. Bush and Licklider are out there, dreaming up what could be next. Our inspiration comes from everywhere. The internet and social media are still so new to us we need to figure out how we want to use it.
We must continue to call out for scientists and engineers. We can’t lose these great minds. The inventor of Segway, Dean Kamen, has said he worries that math and science are being lost in today’s world. His goal is to make it fun again and bring kids back into a world of endless possibilities. Otherwise we will have a society that is highly entertained and lost in a world of stuff like this:
I have nothing against being entertained. I certainly take full advantage of the wonders the internet has to offer, but there still must be so much more for us to do with it.