Man Computer Symbiosis

JCR Licklider

JCR Licklider

Last week Arne Renkema-Padmos (@hcisec) tweeted that my ‘The History of HCI in 15 Papers‘ series was worth a look (and I didn’t even pay him for the recommendation).

Taking a look back myself I see there are a number on the list which need a fuller write up. I always intended to do this but never quite got a round too it as my efforts went into building our new CS HCI Programme here at Manchester (more about that in a different post).

But now is the time to get back to it! So the next on my list which isn’t linked is ‘Man-Computer Symbiosis, Licklider JCR’ – http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html

First off, you should know that without JCR Licklider (‘Lick’) you wouldn’t have the personal computer, or the open internet (most likely). Not because he developed them but because his vision, while was at the DoD, was to fund projects which would develop the infrastructure and computational components so that everyone could benefit from computers and an open network for communication between people.

So why did we care?

We’ll in my opinion it can all be traced back to his ideas about how small connected computers that everyone could use would enhance our existence. Indeed, Man Computer Symbiosis is not a vision of cybernetics or artificial intelligence, but rather a discussion of how computers could be extend to do the things they are good at, and how this can enable humans to do the things we are good at; in partnership, and in harmony together.

The work itself is a vision of how Licklider could better perform the tasks that he needed to do, and suggestions for how computers might help fulfil the needs he identified. It’s a Wizard or Oz, a thought experiment, an early persona and scenario (maybe). Whatever, we’ve seen the sort of thing recently in TBLs visions of the Semantic Web. Lick’s work was earlier than this, but later than Bush’s Memex vision. It seems that thought experiments, as opposed to any kind of real practical work, are the way by which true visionaries suggest the future, the only difference being how attainable that future is, and how much of the vision is based in real science. As far a s Lick is concerned, it is mostly based in really scientific possibilities and with a time span to match. Of course without his later DoD job then the vision may not have come to pass so quickly. But this paper is in my list because anyone reading cannot help to see the direction we should be moving in, and even at that time, if his DoD job had not emerged and his influence had not been as strong then I believe that his vision would have still come to pass, enacted by others, but under his influence.

Maybe this is a rationale for Pseudo Open Notebook Science, with venues, rightly, publishing more solid experimental HCI, vision is sometimes overlooked. OSN might be another avenue to get the word out.

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