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Prophets of the Computer Age

In July, 1945, The Atlantic Monthly published "As We May Think," by Vannevar Bush, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president and Director of the wartime Office of Scientific Research and Development. In his article Bush urged scientists to turn their energies from war to the task of making the vast store of human knowledge accessible and useful. The "infostructure" Bush sketched out -- including a proposal for what might be seen as a kind of precursor to hypertext -- was destined to be realized in what we now know as the Internet. "As We May Think," in fact, is generally regarded by digerati as, if not the literal blueprint for the Net and the World Wide Web, then one of its germinal seeds.

Two decades later, in the May, 1964, issue of The Atlantic, Martin Greenberger, a computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's School of Industrial Management, paid tribute to "the remarkable clarity of Dr. Bush's vision," and then went on to make his own startlingly accurate predictions about the future role that computers would likely play in our society. In "The Computers of Tomorrow," Greenberger posits the possibility of an "information utility," and raises the question of how government regulation might or might not play a role in this new market. The author also predicts electronic banking and computer-managed financial markets. The Internet itself may even owe something to the thinking of Mr. Greenberger: he envisions online services that offer everything from publishing capabilities, home shopping, and library research to design and engineering applications and even computerized "communities."

See the Flashbacks archive.

Copyright © 1995, 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
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