Vannevar Bush


Biographical note

American engineer and science administrator known for his work on analog computing, his political role in the development of the atomic bomb as a primary organizer of the Manhattan Project, the founding of Raytheon, and the idea of the memex, an adjustable microfilm viewer which is somewhat analogous to the structure of the World Wide Web. More specifically, the memex worked as a memory bank to organize and retrieve data.

Bush introduced the concept of what he called the memex (possibly derived from "memory extension") during the 1930s, which he imagined as a microfilm-based "device in which an individual stores all 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."

The important feature of the memex is that it ties two pieces together. Any item can lead to another immediately. Bush explains how the human mind works differently than traditional storage paradigms. For example, data is often stored alphabetically, and to retrieve it one must trace it down from subclass to subclass. The brain, Bush explains, works by association rather than index, and with the brain being one of the "awe-inspiring" phenomena in nature, one should learn from it.

After thinking about the potential of augmented memory for several years, Bush set out his thoughts at length in the essay "As We May Think" in the Atlantic Monthly, which was published July 1945. In the article, Bush predicted that "wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified".

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