“Man-Computer Symbiosis” Nugget

Traffic Light Tree


2) Computer-Posted Wall Display: In some technological systems, several men share responsibility for controlling vehicles whose behaviors interact. Some information must be presented simultaneously to all the men, preferably on a common grid, to coordinate their actions. Other information is of relevance only to one or two operators. There would be only a confusion of uninterpretable clutter if all the information were presented on one display to all of them. The information must be posted by a computer, since manual plotting is too slow to keep it up to date.

– Man-Computer Symbiosis, J. C. R. Licklider

This paragraph, or subsection of the Input Output section of Licklider’s Man-Computer symbiosis reminded me a lot of traffic signals and the act of directing traffic. Something that is now completely computerized or at least mechanized. Licklider even uses the word ‘traffic’ once or twice to describe this display of direction. I think it is also relevant that we often talk of ‘internet traffic’ when we talk about the traveling of information through the worldwide web.

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Fraction of the World Wide Web


Internet traffic flows through the web through streams and is directed by way of serial numbers, something discussed preemptively by Licklider. However there are many problems that are arising the more the internet grows and the more we dedicate personal and sensitive information online. The internet was launched just over 20 years ago and in its creation, although many saw its potential, it was hardly  designed for such widespread usage. The internet has connected the entire world and practically the entire world is logged on. Many foresaw the rising significance of the computer and one monumentally important figure, Arthur C. Clarke, even predicted that a satellite would deliver information to our fingertips, which is exactly what has happened. But even with such skilled prophets, few could foresee all the complexities the digitalized age has given rise to.

We are more and more committed to the world wide web everyday and everyday we dedicate more and more of our old systems of records and accounting to its prowess. As more technology comes forth that is connected with with the World Wide Web and everything that it inherits, there is more room for hackers and others to work with to gain sensitive information. This article shortly describes just one of the issues with these new technologies leaving gaps in web security, explaining how hackers can use mobile devices to connect to wifi networks that reveal more than one might think.

Going along with the ‘internet traffic’ analogy, the way we can conceptualize information and data traveling around the world on the web is much like a highway system. Basically, things go from general to specific, much the same way mail would be handled. All mail coming from California to Virginia would be driven on a huge carrier carrying all outgoing mail from California headed eastward. Continuing in this fashion until all mail headed to the east coast arrived there. Then a carrier in Virginia would pick up the mail and take it to Richmond, or wherever. The internet works in the same fashion, programs allow data to search for the quickest route from one place to another, going from general to specific. West to East, London to France, to Paris, etc. One GIGANTIC gap in web security was outed when certain people began to forge a port for information to head through, allowing information to travel through and advertising it as the best route to get the program’s attention. So the information, much of the time sensitive information, could be picked apart and looked at and then sent along its way without anyone ever knowing.



“Augmenting Human Intellect” Nugget 2

First any possibility for improving the effective utilization of the intellectual power of society’s problem solvers warrants the most serious consideration. This is because man’s problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society. The other contenders for first importance are all critically dependent for their development and use upon this resource. Any possibility for evolving an art or science that can couple directly and significantly to the continued development of that resource should warrant doubly serious consideration.

– Doug Engalbart, Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework


I chose this quote as my nugget because it makes a simple yet profound statement that captures the essence of what Engalbart is working towards in his Conceptual Framework. It reveals the staggering significance of augmenting the human intellect and allows us to see our entire existence, or at least the product of our existence, as an extension of our creative problem solving abilities.

Engalbart’s description of his augmentation system almost seems like a pet project at first, better filing systems and enhanced consumption of information to suit his research purposes. But his direct and deliberate aim at augmenting the human intellect maybe one of the most significant and important projects that we could possibly aim for.

Creative problem solving is the basis for our continued survival and existence, and improvement thereof. We have come a long way since our species first began and almost all of it can be accredited to just that. The extent of creative problem solving almost seems unregarded in today’s age so full of excess and superfluity. Especially in this country, in the U.S., in all the bountifulness, it seems easy to forget that we too have our share of problems. In fact, we have more than our share. The U.S. is one of the most inegalitarian among developed countries. Here is a simple graph from an article in The Atlantic comparing increased income inequality, with the U.S leading.

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Income Inequality, theatlantic.com


The U.S. also has one of the highest imprisonment rates in the world, among others on a long, and ever-expanding list of problems. But it seems the weight of these problems and the significance in paying mind to them has been lost on many. We live in a specialized society, everyone has a specific job or role to play. But these problems are ours to share, and all of us should have a mind to pay some attention to them. I believe what Engalbart is fighting for is an increased capacity and ability of anyone and everyone to attack these problems head on. And the first step to counteracting these problems is to be informed.

Engalbart’s augmentation system relates back to Bush’s Memex model and ideas on “associative trails,” which Engalbart himself references and esteems. My post on Bush’s article, which you can see here, talks about Bush’s idea of making the wealth of human knowledge gained over the ages more accessible and more easily manageable. This is a huge part of Engalbart’s vision and in fact he draws much from Bush’s idea of the Memex and associative trails. Much of both of their models sound somewhat relatable to a modern computer, and Engalbart himself brings into the discussion the potential of a personal computer in achieving these goals. It is funny to think that almost his entire dream is realizable through the use of a personal computer, which I assume all of us have at our disposal.

But I also bring up the personal computer because I think some of the terminology or ideas used by Engalbart can be seen through the computer. Not much of us spend time thinking about it nowadays, but there was a time when computers weren’t so user-friendly. One of the biggest leaps into the personal computer era was the development of the GUI, or Graphic User Interface. Whenever I was reading about Engalbart’s ‘symbol structures’ GUI came to mind. GUI basically allows a user to navigate through the computer using graphic icons, rather than entering commands which was once the case, and it was developed by none other than Steve Jobs, adopted by Xerox. If you can appreciate the revolutionary significance of what Steve Jobs did, then you should watch the video I have linked below. GUI is probably  his most significant contribution to the computer world and I think it relates in many ways to Engalbart’s “symbol structures.”

Steve Jobs on GUI

‘Associative Trails’

Screenshot 2014-06-24 19.26.48




In a word that pretty much describes the center of attention throughout my browsing. Sticking to the ‘associative trails’ metaphor, euthanasia is the main trail which all the others diverge. The experience began with a site called debate.org, a forum for debates, at about 6:20pm. After finding a debate that caught my interest, one arguing the legitimacy/legality of euthanasia, it seems the rest is browser history.

I tried to forget about the assignment and just go with my stream of consciousness, but it wasn’t quite that easy. Still, I managed to browse and explore quite a bit. I ended on an article by The Atlantic regarding capital punishment in America.

For me the connection is right there but just to make it perfectly clear, the way my thinking went (not without influence) was that from euthanasia I saw several links and mentions of the death penalty. And I began to think about the somewhat paradoxical connection between the two. In the United States, capital punishment is overwhelming seen as morally permissible and legally permissible, while on the other hand assisted suicide is overwhelmingly seen as morally wrong and not acceptable.

I wasn’t thinking about it entirely before this post, but it interesting to see that this two topics were closely related to one another on the web and in my thoughts. But it seems like they are for two totally separate reasons.


Euthanasia refers to the lethal injection used both in assisted suicides as well as criminal executions. It appears to me that this is the connection the web found, most likely powered by Google, which allowed me to click from one to the other. However, the connection between capital punishment using euthanasia and assisted suicide using it is much deeper and more complex in my mind.

This post by chartmann discusses the connection our own associative thinking and the algorithms used in search engines, which seem to mirror each other in a way.


This is the direction my thinking has headed since I started this concept experience and that is the direction it goes still. Somewhat like the spontaneous spin-offs off of the main trail that it seems we all couldn’t avoid, I don’t think that our thinking is perfectly linear. But I also like to think that we all aren’t imagining cat videos every 3 minutes during our college seminars…


“As We May Think” Nugget 1

“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 individual.”


I chose this paragraph for my nugget because, although it does not contain anything particularly new or exciting to most of us, it is the basis for the entire article. Vannevar Bush goes on to explain that our ability to record ideas and transfer knowledges through the ages requires us to do three things to fully benefit from this ability: it must be stored, consulted, and extended. The article makes the point that modern science has not kept up with this amazing ability to store seemingly infinite knowledge from the ages with an equal ability to explore and consult that knowledge.

Bush pushes for more mechanized instruments to make this process as capable as possible. Bush explains that mechanisms could be doing much of the work that is now left up to someone like a file clerk, which has not changed much for centuries.

The functions that Bush says should be mechanized are ones that involve logical reasoning, comparable to arithmetic, and other similar functions. This explores the idea of where the split between the realm of technology and the realm of the human mind lies. Presumably there are functions that computers can do much better than humans at last on a mass scale, which we have seen already, and vice versa. I have always thought that this split is already visible within our own brains, something that should fit with Bush’s own thinking since he seems to consider much of human technology to be a sort of reverse engineering of our own biological functions.

Here it is –

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It seems to me that the functions of the left brain, the logical, analytical abilities are ones that can be matched and very likely surpassed by technology. Whereas the right brain functions such as creativity, are not nearly as easily mechanized or transferred to computer systems to perform.

However I do think that there is a missing link in the chain of technologies ability to function entirely independent of a human, and that would be adaptability, for lack of a better word. Even now technology only operates according to the programs computer engineers wrote for it. And even if a computer is able to defeat the a chess grandmaster in the game of chess, the computer was engineered by a human. Even more so, the game of chess is limited to a board. There are practically infinite possibilities in the game of chess but there is not much room for something totally unexpected to happen, where there might be in other scenarios.

If a computer is programmed to fulfill a certain function, it might not have within its range of capabilities the ability to consult common sense when things go awry, something that would hardly stand in the way of a human operator.

How it feels to think


How does it feel to think? That question definitely gets me thinking…but not exactly feeling. And even feeling is produced by the brain like thinking but thinking isn’t quite a feeling. So…feeling thought. To answer in analogy is probably the best way to provide a sketch of how to feels to think but I want to make a good analogy so I better think on it…hmmm. The brain has many functions, it is the central control system to our entire bodies but I as a person hardly do that. I do not tell my organs to function, or my blood to pump, I don’t even think about my breathing except on occasion. So the brain does a lot more than just thinking but it seems like my thinking is the only function I can perform within it…my thoughts are me. So I would say thinking feels like being alive, it feels like existence. I think therefore I am.(Philosophy minor, can’t help it) There are many different types of thought. Being lost in thought for me feels much like wandering an invisible forest, one that I have been through many times before, and know very well. But that doesn’t quite mean it is unchanging, like any forest it grows, stemming from the life already in existence. Creative problem solving is another type of thinking, and for me it is best described as a chess game. There are many factors influencing the flow of thought and the different routes I take. Many rules apply and conditions change with every move, there are many routes to success, none the same as another.