Korede Aderele
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Notes on “As We May Think”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/

Editor’s Blurb: As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For years inventions have extended man’s physical powers rather than the powers of his mind. Trip hammers that multiply the fists, microscopes that sharpen the eye, and engines of destruction and detection are new results, but not the end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages. The perfection of these pacific instruments should be the first objective of our scientists as they emerge from their war work. Like Emerson’s famous address of 1837 on “The American Scholar,” this paper by Dr. Bush calls for a new relationship between thinking man and the sum of our knowledge

Side thoughts

  • Watching Peter Bourgon’s talk on OkLog where he notes how code is read signinficantly more often than it is written struck an interesting inversion with Vannevar Bush’s worries about libraries and stores of knowledge being largely neglected or “nibbled at by the few”. Computer programs could often be described as the codification of domain knowledge on a certian thing. What is it about codifying domain knowledge that makes it so much more likely to be looked at? I suppose since programs are executed and caused to have real effect in how systems behave, there is a need created to constantly re-reference such in order to gain an understanding of why these things are this way. Also, programs tend to lean in the direction of creating abstractions around key ideas, hence leaving some degree of indirection between domain knowledge and the executable codification thereof.

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