Monday, August 2, 2010

As We May Realize

Vannevar Bush's post-war article that introduced the concept of hypertext, As We May Think, was published in Atlantic magazine in 1945, sixty-five years ago.  I'd heard of it, but never sat down and read it until today.

Like many good futurist predictions, it can be eerie how much it gets right, and all too easy to gloss over how much it gets wrong.  For example, he's convinced that microfilm, rather than CRTs and their descendants, will be the medium of choice.  Speech recognition and generation being 'easy' problems to solve is another common mistake.  It took nearly fifty-five years to make generation start sounding natural, and speech recognition is so hard that its first practical application is the nascent Google Voice.

In fact, that's the thing that strikes me the most about this article.  A significant amount of his predictions didn't come true until this decade.  Hyperlinks may have gotten their start in the nineties, but camera phones, e-readers, Wikipedia, online shopping, and social networks only took off recently.  It amazes me how much of a different experience it would be reading this for the first time in, say, 1997, when hyperlinks and pocket calculators were the main predictions it got right.

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