It seems to me that we may be sitting at a similar moment in history to the one that Bush considered. Through the first half of the 20th century, physics was generally lauded and assumed to produce societal goods. Then came the bomb, and the field had a lot of questions to answer about what its purpose was, and what its relationship should be to the military-industrial complex.
And, perhaps I'm reaching here, but networked computing technology has had a similar privileged spot in American life for at least 30 years. Networked computers democratized! Anyone could have a voice! They delivered information, increased the variety of human experience, allowed new capabilities, and helped the world become more open and connected. Computers and the Internet were forces for good in the world, which is why technology was so readily attached to complex, revolutionary processes like the Arab Spring, for example.
But a broad skepticism about technology has crept into (at least) American life. We find ourselves a part of a "war on terror" that is being perpetually, secretly fought across the very network that Engelbart sought to build. Every interaction we have with an Internet service generates a "business record" that can be seized by the NSA through a secretive process that does not require a warrant or an adversarial legal proceeding.
The disclosure of the NSA's surveillance program is not Hiroshima, but it does reveal the latent dark power of the Internet to record communication data at an unprecedented scale, data that can be used by a single nation to detriment of the rest. The narrative of the networked age will never be as simple as it once was.
If you're inclined to see the trails of information Bush imagined future scholars blazing as (meta)data to be hoovered up, if you're inclined to see PRISM as a societal Memex concentrated in the hands of the surveillance state, then perhaps, we're seeing the end of the era Bush's article heralded.
At the very least, those with the lofty goal of improving humanity are going to have to explain why they've chosen networked computing as their augmentation platform of choice, given the costs that we now know explicitly exist. The con side of the ledger can no longer be ignored.
Yet, it seems possible that we have not yet fulfilled the Engelbart's vision. Bush and Engelbart did have distinct visions. For Bush, scientific knowledge itself provided salvation, as if units of wisdom could be manufactured for the preservation of the human race. Engelbart's view was, befitting its time, more cybernetic: people and technology fed one into the other in a spiral of improvement. The Internet is still young, the web younger still. We do not know what form they will take. The current externalities -- now that they are known -- are a new feedback piping into the system, which means they can be accounted for in law or code or both. The co-evolution continues.
And I hope that someone, somewhere heard Engelbart died and found his extensive archive and found her mind aflame with new ideas for how humans, working together, can improve themselves. It's been a rough couple of years for technology, but to quote Bush, "It would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome."