The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal

Waldrop, M. Mitchell
ISBN 0670899763
Date finished: 2002-01-20

Licklider was the first ARPA program manager for computing, back when the agency was first founded, and was probably the first visionary to see the potential of personal computing. Others had similar visions, Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" being a well-known example, but Licklider was the first such thinker to have actual experience with computers, and the first to be able to direct funding in support of this vision. This funding went to John McCarthy. Douglas Engelbart. Edward Feigenbaum. (All well-known names in the history of computing.)

Reading this, I was amazed by how much of our modern computing environment is derived from the projects that Licklider funded. CTSS, the first timesharing OS, was written on his nickel and introduced ideas such as hierarchical filesystems and command lines. So was Multics, whose demise led to the creation of Unix, and later holders of his office funded the initial ARPANET work. It's a fascinating tale, even if Licklider does drop out of the later chapters as the story goes on without him, and this book tells it clearly and well. I like this book far, far better than Where Wizards Stay Up Late, which was plodding in comparison. (No less than 3 of CNRI's staff show up in the story, and this book is the first thing that gives me an appreciation of what they've done.)

Tagged: biography, computing

Permalink: http://books.amk.ca/2002/01/Dream_Machine.html

%T  The Dream Machine
%S  J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution that Made Computing Personal
%@  2002-01-20
%A  Waldrop, M. Mitchell
%G  ISBN 0670899763
%K  computing, biography

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