J.C.R. Licklider, an experimental psychologist at MIT who became the director of The Information Processing Techniques Office of the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), was the one man whose vision enabled hundreds of other like-minded computer designers to pursue a whole new direction in hardware and software development. In the early 1960s, theresearchers funded by Licklider’s programs reconstructed computer science on a new and higher level, through an approach known as time-sharing.
Although their sponsorship was military, thepeople Licklider hired or supported were working toward a transformationthat he and they believed to be social as well as technological.Licklider saw the new breed of interactive computers his project directors were creating as the first step toward an entirely new kind ofhuman communication capability.
-_Tools For Thought_ by Howard Rheingold
Origins of the Internet
The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled throughnetworking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962 discussing his “Galactic Network” concept. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of nodes through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. In spirit, the concept was very much like the Internet of today. Licklider was the first head of the computer research program at DARPA, starting in October 1962. While at DARPA he convinced his successors at ARPA, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts, of the importance of this networking concept.
authored book _Man-Computer Symbiosis_
In the spring of 1957, while he continued to carry out the duties of an MIT researcher and professor, Dr. J.C.R. Licklider noted every task he did during the day and kept track of each one. He didn’t know it then, but that unofficial experiment prepared the way for the invention of interactive computing–the technology that bridged yesteryear’s number crunchers and tomorrow’s mind amplifiers.
Licklider’s research specialty was psychoacoustics. During World War II, he had explored ways electronics could be applied to understanding human communications. Specifically, he wanted to learn how the human ear and brain are able to convert atmospheric vibrations into the perception of distinct sounds. After the way, MIT was the center of a number of different attempts to use electronic mechanisms to model parts of the nervous system–a movement in biology and psychology as well as engineering that was inspired by the work of Norbert Wienerand others in the interdisciplinary field of cybernetics. Licklider was one of the researchers attracted to this paradigm, not strictly out of the desire to build a new kind of machine, but out of the need for new ways to simulate the activities of the human brain. This need, inspired by cybernetics, was extended simultaneously into engineering and physiology. Computers were the last thing on Licklider’s mind–until his theoretical models of human perceptual mechanisms got out of hand.
The fig tree is pollinated only by the insect Blastophaga grossorum. The larva of the insect lives in the ovary of the fig tree, and there it gets its food. The tree and the insect are thus heavily interdependent: the tree cannot reproduce without the insect; the insect cannot eat without the tree; together, they constitute not only a viable but a productive and thriving partnership. This cooperative “living together in intimate association, or even close union, of two dissimilar organisms” is called symbiosis.
“Man-computer symbiosis” is a subclass of man-machine systems. There are many man-machine systems. At present, however, there are no man-computer symbioses. . . . The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computers will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human being has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.
– Howard Rheingold – _Tools For Thought_