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Symposium celebrates Vannevar Bush vision

One of MIT's and the world's legendary figures, Vannevar Bush, will be celebrated at an October 12-13 research symposium at MIT, his academic home.

The event will honor the late Dr. Bush and mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of his landmark paper, "As We May Think," which predicted in astonishing detail many recent technological advances, and even described apparatus for achieving the functions today incorporated into the World Wide Web. The paper was first published in the Atlantic Monthly and subsequently in Life magazine.

The event is by invitation and there is a fee. Interested community members should call the office of Professor Paul Penfield Jr., x3-4601, for additional information. A reduced student fee of $50 allows complete access to the symposium speaking program, which will be held at Sala de Puerto Rico in the MIT Student Center. Proceedings also will be carried on the MIT cable system on Channel 9.

Dr. Bush was a faculty member, dean and vice president of MIT, and later chairman of the Corporation. He was named president of Carnegie Institution in Washington in 1938 and a year later, as war loomed for the United States, he laid before President Roosevelt a plan for a National Defense Research Committee. The NDRC had been conceived by a small group Dr. Bush headed that sought to ensure that the nation would not have to fight armed only with obsolete technology.

President Roosevelt authorized the NDRC and made Dr. Bush its chairman, and the MIT pioneer played a leading role in every subsequent scientific development during the war years and beyond, including the atomic bomb.

Professor Penfield, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, where Dr. Bush earned a doctorate in one year, (1916) is the MIT host for the event. The program chairman is Professor Andries van Dam of Brown University.

They made plans for the symposium, which they described as a "posthumous Festschrift," while discussing the fact that 1995 was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Bush's important paper. The formal title of the symposium is: "As We May Think"-A Celebration of Vannevar Bush's 1945 Vision, An Examination of What Has Been Accomplished, and What Remains to Be Done. Information about the event and the speakers is on the World Wide Web at .

Those interested in Dr. Bush's work, the organizers noted, may find the following references of interest: From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the Mind's Machine (James M. Nyce and Paul Kahn, Academic Press, 1991). It includes reference text for both the Life and Atlantic Monthly versions of "As We May Think," as well as the last manuscript draft of Memex II, dated August 1957. An HTML text of the Atlantic Monthly version is also available, reproduced with permission per D. Duchier, and can be found at .

The speakers at the research symposium will discuss how they were influenced in their own work by Dr. Bush's vision and its technical legacy, what parts of the vision were realized and how, and what outstanding problems remain to be solved before the vision can be fully realized. The program follows.

October 12 program: 9am, opening remarks; 10am, Douglas Engelbart; 11am, break; 11:30am, Theodor Nelson; 12:30pm, lunch; 1:30pm, Robert Kahn; 2:30 pm, Tim Berners-Lee: 3:30pm, break; 4 pm, Michael Lesk; 5pm, reception, lobby of the Bush Building; 7pm, dinner and speech by Douglas Adams.

October 13 program: 9am. Nicholas Negroponte; 10am, Raj Reddy; 11am, break; 11:30am, Lee Sproull; 12:30pm, lunch; 2pm, Alan Kay; 3pm, closing remarks.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 4, 1995.

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