Vannevar Bush

— Biography, excerpted from Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists (Gale
Research, 1995).

Vannevar Bush's most important contribution to engineering was the
differential analyzer. . . . In addition to this electronic
calculating "machine," Bush published an influential essay about a
hypothetical computing machine called Memex. The essay presented a
theoretical prototype for the modern day personal computer and helped
influence research in such areas as hypertext, multimedia, and artificial
intelligence. . . .

Bush firmly cemented his reputation as one of the founding fathers of the
computer age when he published his essay, "As We May Think," in the
July, 1945 issue of Atlantic Monthly. In the essay, Bush expressed his
concern that the staggering exponential growth of scientific knowledge
was becoming increasingly difficult for scientists to access readily. "The
summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate,"
wrote Bush, "and the means we use for threading through the consequent
maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the
days of square-rigged ships." Bush went on to outline the prototype for
the modern personal computer. Called Memex, this theoretical machine
greatly influenced later research in such areas as hypertext, multimedia,
and information retrieval.

Essentially, Memex would file material by association, and users could
retrieve this information by pressing a key that would follow a "trail" of
facts. Memex was the prototypical first idea of modern information
retrieval through computers. In Pieces of the Action, Bush described
Memex as a machine "that should be the personal memory and body of
knowledge belonging to an individual." He went on to say that it would
"emulate [the] mind in its associative linking of items of information, and
their retrieval as a result."

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