Friday, February 13, 2009

The CIA and Cybernetics (Part Three): The Origin of Man-Computer Symbiosis

"Man-computer symbiosis is a subclass of man-machine systems. There are many man-machine systems. At present, however, there are no man-computer symbioses. The purposes of this paper are to present the concept and, hopefully, to foster the development of man-computer symbiosis by analyzing some problems of interaction between men and computing machines, calling attention to applicable principles of man-machine engineering, and pointing out a few questions to which research answers are needed. The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today." - Licklider, J.C.R., "Man-Computer Symbiosis", IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, vol. HFE-1, 4-11, Mar 1960.
J.C.R. Licklider Envisions the "Galactic Network"


Much like Vannevar Bush, J.C.R. Licklider's contribution to the development of the Internet consists of ideas not inventions. He foresaw the need for networked computers with easy user interfaces. His ideas foretold of graphical computing, point-and-click interfaces, digital libraries, e-commerce, online banking, and software that would exist on a network and migrate to wherever it was needed. He has been called, "Computing's Johnny Appleseed," a well-deserved nickname for a man who planted the seeds of computing in the digital age.

In 1950, Licklider moved from the Psycho-Acoustic Laboratory at Harvard University to MIT where he served on a committee that established MIT Lincoln Laboratory. He worked on a Cold War project known as SAGE designed to create computer-based air defense systems [the Mitre Corp. spun off from Lincoln Lab, and was eventually acquired by Warren Buffett - the "sage" of Omaha ... ]. In 1957 he became a Vice President at BBN, where he bought the first production PDP-1 computer and conducted the first public demonstration of time-sharing. ...

SAGE - "Thanks in part to Vannevar Bush's funding, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) became a hotbed of advanced research. One of their most influential projects was the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) program, established in 1954 by the US Air Force to develop a continental air defense system to protect against a nuclear bomber attack from the Soviet Union. ... When SAGE was deployed in 1963, it consisted of 24 Direction Centers and 3 Combat Centers, each linked by long-distance telephone lines to more than 100 radar defense sites across the country, thereby establishing one of the first large-scale wide-area computer networks. This had a great influence on a lot of people who worked on the program, including Licklider, who later became the first Director of the IPTO and initiated the research that led to creation of the ARPANET. SAGE remained in continuous operation until 1983."

It was not the experimental 1967 link between the TX-2 computer at MIT Lincoln Lab and the Q-32 computer at System Development Corp. as a number of writers claim. The Cape Cod system, which started working in 1953, was the first experimental network. The earliest proponent of building such a system was MIT Prof. George Valley. The leader of the group that built Whirlwind was Prof. Jay W. Forrester and the Cape Cod system relied on the modems and other communications technology invented by Jack Harrington’s group.

The first operational computer network was Cape Cod’s successor, the SAGE air defense system, which operated from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. It included 22 Direction Centers spread over the U.S., mostly along the northern tier and the two coasts, and one in Canada. These centers were connected by digital links to hundreds of radars and to each other. They also used radio data links to control missiles and manned interceptors in flight. Each center used the network to pass along information about aircraft moving toward neighboring centers but there was no scheme for relaying to sectors farther away. Each land line in the network had a backup line that went by a different geographical route and cutover equipment automatically switched to the alternate line in case of a circuit outage.

Dr. Licklider, who held advanced degrees in psychology, was among the first to recognize that the fullest potential of the computer could only be achieved by improving the human user's ability to interact with it.

In turn, he saw that the computer could do more than just provide data. It could also aid its users in thinking, understanding and decision making.

In the spring of 1957, while he continued to carry out the duties of an MIT researcher and professor, Dr. J.C.R. Licklider noted every task he did during the day and kept track of each one. He didn't know it then, but that unofficial experiment prepared the way for the invention of interactive computing--the technology that bridged yesteryear's number crunchers and tomorrow's mind amplifiers.

Licklider's research specialty was psychoacoustics. During World War II, he had explored ways electronics could be applied to understanding human communications. Specifically, he wanted to learn how the human ear and brain are able to convert atmospheric vibrations into the perception of distinct sounds. After the way, MIT was the center of a number of different attempts to use electronic mechanisms to model parts of the nervous system--a movement in biology and psychology as well as engineering that was inspired by the work of Norbert Wiener and others in the interdisciplinary field of cybernetics. Licklider was one of the researchers attracted to this paradigm, not strictly out of the desire to build a new kind of machine, but out of the need for new ways to simulate the activities of the human brain. This need, inspired by cybernetics, was extended simultaneously into engineering and physiology. Computers were the last thing on Licklider's mind--until his theoretical models of human perceptual mechanisms got out of hand.

Professor Licklider outlined his vision for improving the human-computer dialogue--he called it the "man-computer symbiosis"--in a number of papers published in the early 1960s.

The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled through networking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962 discussing his "Galactic Network" concept. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of nodes through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. In spirit, the concept was very much like the Internet of today. Licklider was the first head of the computer research program at DARPA, starting in October 1962. While at DARPA he convinced his successors at ARPA, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts, of the importance of this networking concept.

The program he outlined for achieving this symbiosis was supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense, which established the first large-scale experimental computer science research projects at universities across the nation, a group that became known as "the ARPA community." Out of that effort came the basis for timesharing, virtual memory and resource sharing.

The first of the university computer science laboratories was Project MAC at MIT. Professor Licklider was director of Project MAC (now the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science) from 1968-70.

Professor Licklider also made important contributions in the application of computers to modern libaries, introducing the concepts of digital computers and telecommunications into the processes of information storage and retrieval.

In the mid 1980s he developed a system of graphical programming that made it possible to construct computer programs by drawing diagrams on a computer screen instead of writing numerical and symbolic expressions.

In March, Professor Licklider was one of six world figures who shared the 1990 Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service. He received the award, which recognized his work in computer networking and computer-human interaction, in the science and invention category. Professor Licklider was nominated for the honor by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

He is survived by his wife, Louise Carpenter Licklider. Also surviving are his children, Tracy Robnett Licklider of Cambridge and Linda Licklider Smith of Arlington; his grandchildren, Allison R. Smith and Zachary Licklider; his daughter-in-law, Janann (Garrity) Licklider, and his son-in-law, Dr. Lorne A. Smith.


Professor Licklider held the BA from Washington University, majored in physics, mathematics and psychology.

Master's degree in psychology from Washington University.

Receives his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester. Thesis "An Electrical Investigation of Frequency-Localization in the Auditory Cortex of the Cat."

Early WWII Research Associate at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
Studied Gestalt psychology with Wolfgang Koeller

Research Fellow in the Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, advancing "theories of pitch perception and the intelligibility of speech" (NYT 7/3/90) "Interested in high-altitude communication, particularly in ways of compressing speech to increase the carrying power of radio and stuff like that." (Annals, 14, 2, p. 16.) Fano said, "There was some very substantial work that he did during the war .... He did something called "clipped speech"-- he invented [it]: it worked very well." (Annals) Numerous scientific papers published e.g., Jour. Acous. Soc. Am.

Researcher at Harvard University's Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory and a lecturer at Harvard University, where he
advanced theories of pitch perception and the intelligibility of speech.

Lecturer at Harvard "mainly doing research, but also a little bit of teaching ... statistics and physiological psychology ... subjects like that" (Babbage interview) "At that time Norbert Wiener ran a circle that was very attractive to people all over Cambridge, and on Tuesday nights I went to that." (Annals, Vol 14 no 2 p.16)

Participated in Project Hartwell (Navy supported research concerning underseas warfare and overseas transport)

Participant in Project Charles (Air Force study of air defense). "At that time, some of the more impressionable ones of us were expecting there would be 50,000 Soviet bombers coming in over here." (Annals) Lead to the creation of Lincoln Laboratories. "I was trying to model how the brain works in hearing with an analog computer .... My time was divided a third time acoustics lab, a third time trying to build a psychology section ..., and one third in the Lincoln Laboratory... really had to learn digital computing, because I couldn't do this stuff with analog computers" (Annals)

Went as Associate Professor to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to "start up a psychology section which we hoped would eventually become a Psychology Department ... in the Electrical Engineering Department ... taught a little bit of electrical engineering."

Joins Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., as vice president and as head of the departments of psychoacoustics, engineering psychology and information systems research.

Elected president of the Acoustical Society of America.

Did research and management work at BBN using DEC PDP-I Worked under Council on library Resources grant (1991-3) "I was having such a marvelous time at BBN, working on computer based library stuff and all kinds of aural radar." (Annals) Did "a little study ... on how I would spend my time. It showed that almost all my time was spent on algorithmic things that were no fun, but they were all necessary for the few heuristic things that seemed important. I had this little picture in my mind how we were going to get people and computers really thinking together." (Annals)

Named director for Information Processing Techniques and for Behavioral Sciences with ARPA in Washington, D.C.

Directed ARPA information processing technology and behavioral sciences section (IPTO 1963-4). Encouraged research into time-sharing at MIT, SDC, Berkeley, UCLA, etc and distributed enough money to incubate the formation of computer science departments that eventually would be linked up via the ARPNET. (Funding for Project MAC started in 1963.) Fano said, Licklider was "very different from most heads of branches of the government, .... not sitting in your office waiting for proposals to arrive after sending out a brochure ... running around the country trying to generate enthusiasm." (Annals)

Manager of Information Sciences, Systems and Applications at the Thomas J. Watson Center of International Business Machines. Lived near Mt. Kisco, NY.

Participant in EduCom Summer Study on Information Networks at Boulder Colorado planning EduNet.

Rreturned to MIT as director of Project MAC and as a professor in the Department
of Electrical Engineering


He directs the Information Processing Techniques Office ( IPTO) in Washington

Professor at MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS)

Professor Licklider becoms emeritus professor at MIT (1988 had 8MB RAM 150MB HD computer on his desk.)

1 comment:

Christine Erikson (aka Justina) said...

"The hope is that, in not too many years, human brains and computing machines will be coupled together very tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today." - Licklider, J.C.R., "Man-Computer Symbiosis", IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, vol. HFE-1, 4-11, Mar 1960."

AHHHHH one big problem.