“What would it do to a brain to think creatively, continuously?”
Because I did this reading after class today, that was my first thought as I read the first two pages. Because computers, as Licklider implies, would allow (and do allow) us to do that — they can do the “dirty” (monotonous) work, while we as intelligent beings can come up with ideas of a more perhaps profound nature. To me as an engineer, this means I can come up with some complicated equation (maybe a horrible integral or an infinity x infinity matrix), and I can have a program solve it in mere seconds, or minutes, when it might have taken me hours (or worse, days, depending on the complexity of the problem) to solve by hand. Which, in theory, allows us to use more of our time formulating complex programs, which we can then program a computer how to solve. And thereby, we can be spending more time thinking “creatively.”
It is truly astonishing how well Licklider was able to describe the potential functionality of computers. His “symbiosis”, though I’m sure few people actually think about it in those terms, is so accurate and applicable to the average person’s relationship with computers today. I for one, could not live without my laptop — and it really hit home when I spilled water on my keyboard last week, and half the keys didn’t work. Not being able to use its functionality had me feeling unbelievably restricted! Fortunately, I was able to get a loaner, but even that small period of time made me realize just how dependent I was on my laptop, and how ridiculously useful it is. Computers are so versatile and capable of doing almost anything — if we can figure out how to program to do so. Truly, if we can dream it, we can do it – “As we use the web, the web gets smarter.”
One of the most amazing parts of this article was how Licklider, a man (of great innovation, no doubt) was able to see past the limitations of computers in his day (1960 – I had to look at the date this was written because it is so applicable to the present) to their future capacities. He was able to recognize all their present faults (such as incompatible language programming, memory storage and organization, and costliness) and present solutions to these, of which most are still viable today. In particular, as a daughter of computer programmers, I’m quite familiar with the problems of nationally-used programs that are written in largely obsolete languages upon which the government is trying to update and modify. Some of these issues stem from the fact that there are not enough people who even know those languages anymore, so only a few can actually go in and edit the programs. Then there is the process of updating them, and theoretically rewriting them into a different (theoretically, better) language, which is terribly time-consuming and, in my opinion, almost impractical. So, it was quite interesting to read an article which touched on these types of problems that dated from about 50 years ago — and to think they haven’t gone away! Well, I suppose as with any form of technology, improving it only brings new problems.