- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Next time you send an instant message, or play a networked game, or even create a spreadsheet, give thanks to an unassuming-looking man in a nondescript Pentagon office who understood what computing could be and set in motion the forces that transformed that vision into reality. A man, J.C.R. Licklider, whose story has rarely been told -- and never with the panache of M. Mitchell Waldrop's The Dream Machine.
You will like J.C.R. Licklider once you get to know him. There's more than a little of Richard Feynmann's legendary playfulness in this man, who found himself at the heart of nearly every computing and networking revolution from the 1940s onward yet still found time to dance with his wife in the kitchen. Always there -- either as a participant, funder, or enabler -- Licklider is the ideal subject for Waldrop's wonderfully readable accounts of the seminal moments in computing. Licklider grounds a story that covers everything from Vannevar Bush's legendary Memex (which anticipated hypertext) to Claude Shannon's information theory, from von Neumann's stored-program computer to Alan Turing's "Turing Test" for artificial intelligence.
It was Licklider who led what was, in essence, the first department of "cognitive science," years before the term was invented. Later, he was among the first to discover the joys of individual, interactive computing with MIT's experimental TX-0, and the insight that followed changed the world: Humans and computers could work together as a symbiotic system, "coupled together very tightly, and the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today."
Licklider then published an extraordinary essay promoting the creation of networked "thinking centers" that "will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval." Some 25 years later, Tim Berners-Lee invented something called the World Wide Web, but it was Licklider who defined it.
Licklider, as program director for the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency, promoted (and funded) the critical work on networking that led to Arpanet, TCP/IP, and the Internet (not to mention breakthroughs in computer graphics and interactive computing). More important, he played a pivotal role in building the community that made the Internet happen. It's that community, and what they did, which is chronicled in the second half of this splendidly told story.
Licklider died six months before Berners-Lee finished the first web browser, but his ghost is present any time you use one. If you'd like to understand how we got here -- and enjoy a rollicking good read -- you've just got to read The Dream Machine. (Bill Camarda)
Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer with nearly 20 years' experience in helping technology companies deploy and market advanced software, computing, and networking products and services. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.