The memex presentation


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A description the Memex - the memory extender conceived by Vannevar Bush in 1945. A look at the device and its legacy.

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  • March 11, 1890 – June 28, 1974Doctorate from MIT and Harvard in 1917Researcher in analog computing – he designed the a computer that could solve differential equations. Also , the “Rapid Selector” which was basically a microfilm reader. Worked on the National Research Council during WWIA founder of Raytheon in 1922Became dean of engineering at MIT in 1932First science advisor to a president (Roosevelt)Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Bush coordinated the activities of some six-thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfareProposed the founding of the NSF after WWII – Wrote several important pieces, including “Science: An Endless Frontier” – a description of where research should go.Later served on the board of AT&T and was chairman of Merck
  • Scientists played a large role in WWII – it created a lot of new developments, but what next?Bush was involved in a lot of the beaurocracyScience has led to specialization - there is a lot of potential, but there are problems“Of what lasting benefit has been man’s use of scienceand of the new instruments which his researchbrought into existence? First, they have increased hiscontrol of his material environment. They have improvedhis food, his clothing, his shelter; they have increased hissecurity and released him partly from the bondage of bareexistence. They have given him increased knowledge of hisown biological processes so that he has had a progressivefreedom from disease and an increased span of life. They areilluminating the interactions of his physiological and psychologicalfunctions, giving the promise of an improvedmental health.
  • This article is cited as the source for technologies in over 360 articles (as of 1991) – Google Scholar claims over 4000 citations of the article. It was published 3 times in 1945; Atlantic Monthly, Life, and Time.
  • Bush did not reach this conclusion because of the war; he had this idea in 1932, but the publication of the article in the aftermath of WW II was important. After the war, people had a different view of science – atom bomb, radar, sonar, amphibious vehicles, bomb sightss, etc.“Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose…”“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. “TOO MUCH INFORMATION to consume and most importantly to remember.
  • Device was NOT an public device for storing or sharing information – it was for private use – like an iPod, not like the Internet or library. Issues of sharing information came up later – Bush added an idea about sharing memex contents, and copyright issues came up way before Napster became popular, but they were never dealt with.
  • Key Components:Data input mechanismDocument scannerVoice recognizer (vocoder) for converting speech to text Touch-sensitive screen through which text can be entered via a stylus and through which information could be viewedInformation Storage – initially microfilm; later magnetic tape and then memory ‘crystals’Information association mechanism – a keyboard used assign ID numbers to each type of data (e.g. document) The ID number was a marker that associated the data with a topic or subject (what we would call today a ‘tag’)Informational retrieval mechanismCode book where topic IDs were storedTelephone switch technology to locate items by ID numbersRapid Selector switch to page through trailsBig Idea was the idea of creating ‘web of trails’Central to the idea is the use of personal association of ideas:"Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing.When data of any sort are placed in storage, they are filed alphabetically or numerically, and information is found (when it is) by tracing it down from subclass to subclass.It can only be in one place, unless duplicates are used; one has to have rules as to which path will locate it, and the rules are cumbersome. Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter a new path.""The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association.With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails created by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacies of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.“Not shown here – information could also be inserted by keyboard (typewriter), camera, voice (via voice recognition software-vocoder).A trail was a set of connected ideas – very much like our current idea of hyperlinked objects; conceptually, this is the birth of hypertext.Missing from the picture are the camera, the voice recorder (vocoder) and typewriter for adding information.
  • Bush was bitter about spending money on the manned space program rather than on his memex, which would bring real value to mankind.
  • With Bush’s stature and prestige, you would think he or someone else would have taken on the memex.It would have been ‘enormously expensive’ to build - “but no worse than shooting a rocket to the moon” – Bush was outspoken on the folly of the US manned space program.It was an idea before its time - Bush writes that the “the existence of various technical elements and devices were actually in their embryo.”public did not understand the value of project, especially in comparison with the ongoing space program, which he considered “collecting a bucket of talcum powder from the moon.”
  • Other projects include: ‘Shoebox’ is the name of a digital photo management system developed byAT&T labs in Cambridge, UK (Mills et al, 2002).4Experience on Demand (EOD); initiated in 1997, it was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) andexecuted at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science.Memories for Life project, which was designed to help people manage,analyse and use the enormous amount of digital data that they will soonhave about themselves‘Stories from a Life’, for example, is a project which helps save ‘stories’ onthe basis of photos or letters as key frames to memoryLifestreams(all cited in Computer as a Personal Memory Devices – van Djck, 2005).Gordon Bell from Microsoft Research built the MyLifeBits system starting in 2001 – he cited Bush’s memex as his motivation/inspiration. The Microsoft Research website also states ‘MyLifeBits is a system that began in 2001 to explore the use of SQL to store all personal information found in PCs.’ Published the original article – “MyLifeBits – Fulfilling the Memex Vision” (ACM Multimedia ’02, December 1-6, 2002, Juan Les Pins, France)Figures From 2005Not a desk, but a software system.Books written (and read when possible)Personal documents (correspondence including memos and email, bills, legal documents, papers written, …)PhotosPosters, paintings, photo of things (artifacts, …medals, plaques)Home movies and videosCD collectionAnd, of course, all PC filesNow recording: phone, radio, TV (movies), web pages… conversations and meetings to comeOnly 44 GB, incl. 10 wma, 14 SQL!!! Video: o(100) + 500 mov1TB gives you 65+ years of:100 email messages a day (5KB each)100 web pages day (50KB each)5 scanned pages a day (100KB each)1 book every 10 days (1 MB each)10 photos per day (400 KB JPEG each)8 hours per day of sound - e.g. telephone,voice annotations, and meeting recordings (8 Kb/s)1 new music CD every 10 days (45 min each at 128 Kb/s)It will take you 5 years to fill up your 80 GB driveThe complicated part of this was creating the relationships between the data. Not easy. Schema was very complicated. Bell says the UI needs a lot of work.
  • Would you use this?
  • A citation analysis done in 1991 found that “As You May Think” was referenced meaningfully (i.e. not just in the introduction or in passing) as a starting point for research in 362 documents. Smith, Linda C., “Memex as an Image of Potentiality Revisited,” from Kahn, P. and Nyce J., From Memex to Hypertext”, AP, 1991, pp. 261-279.But Bush didn’t really come up with most of these ideas himself – these were existing technologies – I believe his contribution was in two areas:Hypertext – associating information in the form of trailsBuilding the personal information device (integration of many existing technologies)
  • Web of trails have names and are basically a group of trails – like a set of books with internal links. Ideas could belong to more than one trail, but the searching was done by “trail name.’ Hyperlinks are real webs – not closed sets of information.Memex was a personal device – not meant to be shared unless one by one – copied by hand.Bi-directional because all ideas belong to the same trail.
  • Another recent article - Still Building the Memex – Feb 2011.Machine for personal useExtension of one’s own memorya personal archive, housing a collection of all of a person’s books, records, communications (i.e., written communications), newspapers, periodicals subscribed to, and so on, accumulated over the years.easy to find associated information as well as to create associations. (playlists? Folders?) in one’s own collection, including the linked associations, would be easily sharable with others by virtue of quickly copying microfilm frames. Because the links from one item to another were embedded in the microfilm frames containing the items, sharing links that have been added to formal materials such as books and articles would involve copying the materials themselves. Bush, though, did not address the question of copyright or other ownership issues.Easy to use.Accommodate a very large amount of data in a small spaceAllow the owner to build very personal collectionsAccommodates a variety of formats (text, voice, documents)The owner can create lists of associated items, with any item able to appear in multiple lists.The owner can share lists with others.
  • Memex provides a method for thinking about how to deal with information overload, a condition that continues to plague us.Memex provides a novel approach to organizing personal information, which still has not been solved satisfactorilyMemex is generally remembered as the technological vision of hypertext, which remains an important method for organizing information online.Memex suggests fascinating possibilities for human-machine symbiosis, increasing our ability to achieve our goals or shape new ones.Subsequent development of hypertext, the world wide web, the contemporary computer human interface, and even the iPod/iPad, represent an opportunity to study the co-evolution of human practices and technological tools, since all technologies emanated from the memex.See for example, Levy, DM, “To Grow In Wisdom: Vannevar Bush, Information Overload, and the Life of Leisure,” ACM JCDL ’05.Houston and Harmon, p. 62.Simpson, R, et al, “50 Years After ‘As We May Think’: The Brown/MIT Vannevar Bush Symposium, Interactions, March, 1996, p. 51.The legacy of the Memex was bigger than the device itselfDifferent disciplinesDifferent developments in computersNelson, Engelbart, others – quotes about BushMemex Symposium – MIT – 1996CARPE - ACM Workshop onContinuous Archival & Retrieval of Personal Experiences – started in 2004Memex Summit (Microsoft) – 2006
  • The memex presentation

    1. 1. The Memex The Personal MemoryExtender That Never Was David Lavenda – May 2011
    2. 2. Vannevar Bush (1890-1974)
    3. 3. The BackdropWWII – Partially, A Scientist’s War
    4. 4. “As We May Think”  July 1945  Seminal article in the history of computing  Introduces the memex
    5. 5. Information Overload“There is a growing mountain of research.But there is increased evidence that we arebeing bogged down today as specializationextends. The investigator is staggered bythe findings and conclusions of thousandsof other workers— conclusions which hecannot find time to grasp, much less toremember, as they appear...” (1945)“The difficulty seems to be…thatpublication has been extended far beyondour present ability to make real use of therecord.” (1945)“We are being buried in our own product.Tons of printed material are dumped outevery week. Many [ideas] become lost;many others are repeated over and over.”(1967)
    6. 6. The Memex“Consider a future device for individualuse, which is a sort of mechanized privatefile and library…A memex is a device in which an individualstores all his books, records, andcommunications, and which is mechanizedso that it may be consulted with exceedingspeed and flexibility. It is an enlargedintimate supplement to his memory.” Source: As We May Think, Vannevar Bush, 1945
    7. 7. How Much Information?“…if the user inserted 5000 pages of material a day itwould take him hundreds of years to fill therepository, so that he can be profligate and entermaterial freely” Source: Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think”, 1945
    8. 8. The Memex – Dissected Touch sensitive screens for displaying information and adding annotationsScanner and touch sensitive screen Current „trail number‟ display Stylus „keypad‟ for enteringNavigation switch trail codes Memory storage microfilm, magnetic tape
    9. 9. What Happened to the Memex? Bush „upgrades‟ the memex in 1959 and 1967  Magnetic tape replaces microfilm  Proposed that crystals will replace magnetic tape  Still analog Was never built
    10. 10. Analyzing The Memex Why wasn‟t it ever built? What was its impact on future developments? Why is it important?
    11. 11. Why Wasn’t The Memex Ever Built? According to Bush:  It would have been „enormously expensive‟ to build  It was an idea before its time  Creating associations between was not well understood  Public didn‟t understand the value of the project Others:  Device was too ambiguous; no good definition  No practical way to create associations  Associations aren‟t the best way to link information  Technologies were not ripe for use; e.g. info retrieval Sources: Bush, V., Memex Revisited, 1959, and Memex II, 1967.
    12. 12. Or Was It? Microsoft MyLifeBits Import files GPS import & MyLifeBits Map display Shell VIBE Text logging SenseCam annotation tool Voice annotation Screen saver tool MyLifeBits Internet store BrowserRadio toolcapture Legacy& EPG applications database IM capture files MAPI interfacePocketPCtransfertool Outlook TV capture interface tool Legacy Telephone email client PocketRadio capture tool player TV EPG download tool
    13. 13. MyLifeBits
    14. 14. Did the Memex Impact FutureDevelopments? # of articles/books that mention ‘memex’ meaningfully 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950 1951 1952 1953 1954 1955 1956 1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 Source: Smith, Linda C. “Memex as an Image of Potentiality in Information Retrieval Research and Development, SIGIR 80: Proceedings of the 3rd annual ACM conference on Research and development in
    15. 15. Did the Memex Impact FutureDevelopments? Hypertext / world-wide web Personal information systems Modern computer interface Speech recognition technologies Computer memory storage Machine-readable records Information science
    16. 16. Memex and Hypertext/WebInnovation Memex Hypertext / WebRelationship between association associationconnectionsIdeas connected by… Web of trails Hyperlinks, tagsIdeas are… personal Shared/publicRelationships are... Created and consumed Mostly consumedRelationships are… Bi-directional Uni-directionalRetrieval mechanism Identify trail and then Click search trail sequentiallyModel for memory Human brain Human brainassociation
    17. 17. Is this the Memex? = ? Veith, Richard H. , “Memex at 60: Internet or iPod?”, JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR INFORMATION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, 57(9):1233–1242, 2006
    18. 18. Why Was The Memex Important? Provided a method for dealing with information overload Presents a novel approach to organizing personal information Remembered as the technological vision of hypertext Suggests fascinating possibilities for human- machine symbiosis. Derivative inventions represent an opportunity to study the co-evolution of human practices and technological tools
    19. 19. Thank