In the summer of 1945, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote an article for The Atlantic about technology and the Scientist’s changing relationship with the sum of human knowledge, and accessibility to that knowledge. Read it here.
What’s remarkable about Dr. Vannevar Bush’s postulations is not the pinpoint accuracy with which he predicts the power of search engines, but the lack of faith he has in the computer’s ability to replicate the tenuous, gossamer threads of organic associations that make up man’s internal “search” mechanisms. Recall in a computer is a hierarchy of classes and subclasses, but man’s data is stored through emotion. There this classic Mid-Century dubiousness, not in the power of technology to perform sophisticated tasks, but it’s ability to replicate organic, goopy, un- factored algorithms that make up human choice and association. Personally I would’ve shared in this cynicism, but with the simplicity with which Google Ad s manipulate my emotional drivers to get me to consume and the popularity of dating services like OkCupid (I mean, what can be more mercurial and unquantifiable than human love, right?? wrong!) has convinced me that perhaps humans are not as nuanced as we had once hoped. Perhaps that’s the greatest adverse effect of this flash-point of human endeavor– yes, we can finally see the scope of our knowledge of the universe, but only from this high vantage point can we begin to understand that our own complexity, consciousness, emotions are illusions, no more interesting than pixels scuttling along a screen in Conway’s Game of Life.
I guess I hope to prove myself wrong on this count.