As We May Think - Vannevar Bush

Article by Eylon Caspi, AJ Shankar, Jingtao Wang.
Course notes for CS294-6 Reading The Classics, Professor Christos Papadimitriou, U.C.Berkeley, 9/21/04.


In a 1945 paper for the popular press, Vannevar Bush proposed that science be put to use in organizing the vast record of human knowledge. Inspired by his previous work in microfilm mass storage, Bush envisioned an information workstation--the memex--capable of storing, navigating, and annotating an entire library's worth of information. His idea of push-button linking between documents is commonly held to be the forefather of modern hypertext. However, Bush's vision lacked several key innovations present in today's information workstations, including searchable, digital content and rapid information sharing on a network. Bush tells a masterful story of technology's state of the art in 1945 and of taking its trends to their logical conclusion, revealing how his vision was both guided by and limited by that technology.

This document shall explore and summarize Bush the man, the contributions and limitations of his paper ``As We May Think,'' and our class discussion thereof. We begin with a biography of Bush and a discussion of his vision for organizing the human record. We discuss in turn Bush's predictions on technology for information acquisition, mass storage, automation, and information retrieval, and the culmination of those technologies in the memex. We then discuss the limitations of the memex and of Bush's vision at large.

Our Notes

Bush's Original Paper

Last updated 9/28/04.
Comments to Eylon Caspi.