Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goldberg's Knowledge Machine

Vannevar Bush gets all the credit for having described the Internet or Hypertext before they existed. His 1945 paper "As We May Think" described a desk that allows someone to access information stored on microfilm and to record the "trails" of his research in a way that reminds us of internet searches. Bush thought the machine was mimicking the brain.

As Robert A. Fairthorne pointed out in 1958: "The Memex project ... developed ... into the Rapid Selector. The Rapid Selector had probably been realized as a workable device by. E. Goldberg of the Zeiss Company around 1930." He came to the conclusion that Bush's paper was "timely, even though few suggestions were original."

Emanuel Goldberg's life and work is described in Michael Keeble Buckland's Emanuel Goldberg and his Knowledge Machine: Information, Invention, and Political Forces (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2006). He shows that Goldberg and his achievements became both the victims of National Socialism and the cold war.

It is also interesting to note that Goldberg was a student of Wilhelm Ostwald and Wilhelm Wundt. Ostwald was very much interested in improving the way scientific information was transmitted. He was one of the co-founders of the Bridge ("Die Br├╝cke"), the "International Institute for the Organization of Intellectual Work" in 1911. He coined the phrase "brain of the world" (Gehirn der Welt) and thus influenced Wells others. His "principle of the independent use of the individual piece" was not just significant in the history of bibliography.

The book is worth a close reading. There is an excerpt at Google books.


grasshopper said...

Often, Denis Diderot is considered to be an inventor of hypertext. That's because he thought of a complex structure of cross-references fot the famous Encyclop├ędie that enabled to travel across the world of knowledge using links in the text of individual articles. The structure grew very complex if you consider he had edited some 70.000 articles in the time of his editorship with d'Alembert.

MK said...

Well, if you want to go back that far, why not go back to Pierre Bayle, who seems to me a better candidate, or the Talmud which seems to me still better.