Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As We May Think... We Create

"The world has arrived at an age of cheap complex devices of great reliability; and something is bound to come of it” (pg 2). Since “As We May Think” was published 65 years ago, it is fascinating to consider that some of the things Bush imagined would be revolutionary have occurred and are now taken for granted (for example, we now enjoy the ability to take digital photographs.) The piece put into perspective how privileged of a world/society I live in.

This ubiquity of new technology is what Bush calls compression – a process that works to make things easier. The first thing that leapt to mind was how this would also affect the compression of time. When younger, I remember learning about history in eras – the era of the steam engine, the era of the automobile, and more recently, the era of the computer. However, as technology improves at a more rapid pace, the amount of time before the next “revolutionary” technology is introduced becomes smaller. Nowadays it seems that we are living in mini-eras (say the era of the iPod and the iPhone) and with so much technology at our disposal, it is hard to pick THE one that defines our generation.

Finally, there was this quote that struck a chord: "But even this new machine will not take the scientist where he needs to go” (pg 5). It brings up this idea that no matter how much technology we create, and how much we simplify our lives, we are never satisfied. What then is the ultimate machine? Can we actually ever produce the perfect machine or does it already exist (i.e. the human brain)?

1 comment:

Jack Horkings said...

According to mine, the human brain is the best problem solver we know about. As we progress through time, our collective knowledge as a race grows, and more and more problems are solved more and more rapidly. Many of our problems have been time related, with their solutions bringing faster results.

First we realized having opposable thumbs was sweet (it may not seem like it, but I'm pretty sure my opposable thumbs save me time whilst problem solving). Soon thereafter –soon relative to the age of the planet– we started using our brains and in turn tools. Our problem solving head cavity mush eventually decided domesticating horses and riding them would save time when traveling around or trying to be taller. We later began our long complicated relationship with metal, which eventually lead to those eras of steam engines and automobiles. We made things to help spread our collective knowledge, including transportation devices (lamborghinis, segways, those moving sidewalk things in airports, etc.) as well as archiving devices (paper napkins for schematic doodles, file cabinets, solid state drives, etc.). Having our collective knowledge more easily accesable than ever before gave everyone a leg up on their ancestors, allowing them to solve the more trivial problems of the world more quickly in order to get to the more difficult ones. It is not surprising then that what we may refer to as "revolutionary" technology seems to be arriving more frequently; the process of invention has been made more efficient by inventions).

As for whether or not there is an ultimate machine depends on what the ultimate point of life is. This blog is due in ten minute though so I'm not going to explain that to you all this week. Personally, I would disagree with Bush saying "this new machine will not take the scientist where he needs to go" because it is my belief that scientists simply need to progress, solving one problem at a time, moving forward.

It seems to be a trend as of late to improve/renew our existing technologies after finding problems we may not have accounted for. Combustion engines were sweet before hippies and Al Gore started making everyone feel like polar bear murderess; so now we're gutting our cars and figuring out the best way to power them. It is interesting to me to think what our next inventions will be. They could be progressive, like the automobile, or corrective, like hybrid cars. I was cheating on this blog recently and read this digital storage related post:

"Getting off the point slightly but... it amuses me that i have hundreds of LPs going back to the 60s and they play superbly on my old fashioned townsend rock turntalbe thingy. And it makes me titter out loud that I own 78s from the 20s that play as good as new on my wind up gramaphone. I have never thrown a vinyl lp away cos it wouldnt play, you certainly cant say that about compact discs...Sometimes progress can be very short sighted." (Mark W,