Money Essay, Research Paper
The following document will provide a vehicle for our assignments for the rest of the
semester. If you are interested the source for this text came from
I have intentionally done a global replace on the following words in the text to, in effect, misspell them?
Your next assignment is to extract (nohead) this file and download it to your floppy disk so that you can
bring it to class Thursday (we will be spellchecking it, deleting everything from here on, and uploading it
back to the VAX as ASCII Text and mailing it back to me…
AS WE MAY THINK
by VANNEVAR BUSH
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, JULY 1945
This article was originally published in the July 1945 issue of The
Atlantic Monthly. It is reproduced here with their permission.
The electronic version was prepared by Denys Duchier, April 1994.
Please E-mail comments and corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 many 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 the
end results, of modern science. Now, says Dr. Bush, instalments 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 instalments 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 drinking man and the sum of our
knowledge. – The Editor
This has not been a scientist’s war; it has been a war in which all
have had a part. The scientists, burying their old professional
competition in the demand of a common cause, have shared greatly and
learned much. It has been exhilarating to work in effective
partnership. Now, for many, this appears to be approaching an end.
What are the scientists to do next?
For the biologists, and particularly for the medical scientists, there
can be little indecision, for their war work has hardly required them
to leave the old paths. Many indeed have been able to carry on their
war research in their familiar peacetime laboratories. Their
objectives remain much the same.
It is the physicists who have been thrown most violently off stride,
who have left academic pursuits for the making of strange destructive
gadgets, who have had to devise new methods for their unanticipated
assignments. They have done their part on the devises that made it
possible to turn back the enemy. They have worked in combined effort
with the physicists of our allies. They have felt within themselves
the stir of achievement. They have been part of a great team. Now,
as peace approaches, one asks where they will find objectives worthy
of their best.
Of what lasting benefit has been man’s use of science and of the new
instalments which his research brought into existence? First, they
have increased his control of his material environment. They have
improved his food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased his
security and released him partly from the bondage of bare existence.
They have given him increased knowledge of his own biological
processes so that he has had a progressive freedom from disease and an
increased span of life. They are illuminating the interactions of his
physiological and psychological functions, giving the promise of an
improved mental health.
Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals;
it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate
and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and
endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an
There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased
evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization
extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and
conclusions of thousands of other workers – conclusions which he
cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet
specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the
effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.
Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results
of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for
their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works
and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these
amounts of time might well be startling. Those who conscientiously
attempt to keep abreast of current thought, even in restricted fields,
by close and continuous reading might well shy away from an
examination calculated to show how much of the previous month’s
efforts could be produced on call. Mendel’s concept of the laws of
genetics was lost to the world for a generation because his
publication did not reach the few who were capable of grasping and
extending it; and this sort of catastrophe is undoubtedly being
repeated all about us, as truly significant attainments become lost in
the mass of the inconsequential.
The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view
of the extent and variety of present-day interests, but rather that
publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make
real use of the record. The summation of human experience us being
expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading
through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the
same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.
But there are signs of a change as new and powerful instrumentalities
come into use. Photocells capable of seeing things in a physical
sense, advanced photography which can record what is seen or even what
is not, thermionic tubes capable of controlling potent forces under
the guidance of less power than a mosquito uses to vibrate his wings,
cathode ray tubes rendering visible an occurrence so brief that by
comparison a microsecond is a long time, relay combinations which will
carry out involved sequences of movements more reliably than any human
operator and thousand of times as fast – there are plenty of
mechanical aids with which to effect a transformation in scientific
Two centuries ago Leibnitz invented a calculating machine which
embodied most of the essential features of recent keyboard devises,
but it could not then come into use. The economics of the situation
were against it: the labor involved in constructing it, before the
days of mass production, exceeded the labor to be saved by its use,
since all it could accomplish could be duplicated by sufficient use of
pencil and paper. Moreover, it would have been subject to frequent
breakdown, so that it could not have been depended upon; for at that
time and long after, complexity and unreliability were synonymous.
Babbage, even with remarkably generous support for his time, could not
produce his great arithmetical machine. His idea was sound enough,
but construction and maintenance costs were then too heavy. Had a
Pharaoh been given detailed and explicit designs of an automobile, and
had he understood them completely, it would have taxed the resources
of his kingdom to have fashioned the thousands of parts for a single
car, and that car would have broken down on the first trip to Giza.
Machines with interchangeable parts can now be constructed with great
economy of effort. In spite of much complexity, they perform reliably.
Witness the humble typewriter, or the movie camera, or the automobile.
Electrical contacts have ceased to stick when thoroughly understood.
Note the automatic telephone exchange, which has hundred of thousands
of such contacts, and yet is reliable. A spider web of metal, sealed
in a thin glass container, a wire heated to brilliant glow, in short,
the thermionic tube of radio sets, is made by the hundred million,
tossed about in packages, plugged into sockets – and it works! Its
gossamer parts, the precise location and alignment involved in its
construction, would have occupied a master craftsman of the guild for
months; now it is built for thirty cents. The world has arrived at an
age of cheap complex devises of great reliability; and something is
bound to come of it.
A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously
extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.
Today we make the record conventionally by writing and photography,
followed by printing; but we also record on film, on wax disks, and on
magnetic wires. Even if utterly new recording procedures do not
appear, these present ones are certainly in the process of
modification and extension.
Certainly progress in photography is not going to stop. Faster
material and lenses, more automatic cameras, finer-grained sensitive
compounds to allow an extension of the minicamera idea, are all
imminent. Let us project this trend ahead to a logical, if not
inevitable, outcome. The camera hound of the future wears on his
forehead a lump a little larger than a walnut. It takes pictures 3
millimeters square, later to be projected or enlarged, which after all
involves only a factor of 10 beyond present practice. The lens is of
universal focus, down to any distance accommodated by the unaided eye,
simply because it is of short focal length. There is a built-in
photocell on the walnut such as we now have on at least one camera,
which automatically adjusts exposure for a wide range of illumination.
There is film in the walnut for a hundred exposure, and the spring for
operating its shutter and shifting its film is wound once for all when
the film clip is inserted. It produces its result in full color. It
may well be stereoscopic, and record with spaced glass eyes, for
striking improvements in stereoscopic technique are just around the
The cord which trips its shutter may reach down a man