Vannevar Bush (1890 – 1974)


Vannevar Bush is the inventor credited with the principles underlying modern hypertext research.

In 1945, Bush authored the article “As We May Think” in the Atlantic Monthly in which he first proposed his idea of the Memex machine. This machine was designed to help people sort through the enormous amount of published information available throughout the world. His article described a Memex as a “device in which an individual stores his books, records and communications and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.”

This description, which was written about 30 years before the invention of the personal computer and 50 years before the birth of the public World Wide Web, lays out the notion of the modern link. The Memex was to be a storage and retrieval device using microfilm that would consist of a desk with viewing screens, a keyboard, selection buttons and levers, and microfilm storage.

The machine would augment human memory by allowing the user to make links, or “associative trails,” between documents. Bush proposed the notion of blocks of text joined by links and introduced the terms links, linkages, trails and Web through his descriptions of a new type of textuality. Bush’s article greatly influenced the creators of what we know as “hypertext” and how we use the Internet today. (Ted Nelson coined the term “hypertext” in 1967).

Fun fact:

  • Bush in 1945 had mentioned a version of eyewear computing gadget similar to today’s Google Glass: “The camera hound of the future wears on his forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut. It takes pictures 3 millimetres square, later to be projected or enlarged.”

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