J. C. R. Licklider

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J. C. R. Licklider.

J. C. R. Licklider (March 11, 1915 – June 26, 1990) was an American computer scientist. He is particularly remembered for being one of the first to foresee modern-style interactive computing, and its application to all manner of activities, which he did much to initiate.


  • It is probably dangerous to use this theory of information in fields for which it was not designed, but I think the danger will not keep people from using it. In psychology, at least in the psychology of communication, it seems to fit with a fair approximation. When it occurs that the learnability of material is roughly proportional to the information content calculated | by the theory, I think it looks interesting. There may have to be modifications, of course. For example, I think that the human receiver of information gets more out of a message that is encoded into a broad vocabulary (an extensive set of symbols) and presented at a slow pace, than from a message, equal in information content, that is encoded into a restricted set of symbols and presented at a faster pace. Nevertheless, the elementary parts of the theory appear to be very useful. I say it may be dangerous to use them, but I don’t think the danger will scare us off.
  • I came to MIT from Harvard University, where I was a lecturer. I had been at the Harvard Psychoacoustic Laboratory during World War II and stayed on at Harvard as a lecturer, mainly doing research, but also a little bit of teaching—statistics and physiological psychology—subjects like that.
    Then there came a time that I thought that I had better go pay attention to my career. I had just been having a marvelous time there. I am not a good looker for jobs; I just came to the nearest place I could, which was in our city. I arranged to come down here and start up a psychology section, which we hoped would eventually become a psychology department. For the purposes of having a base of some kind I was in the Electrical Engineering Department. I even taught a little bit of electrical engineering.
    I fell in love with the summer study process that MIT had. They had one on undersea warfare and overseas transport—a thing called Project Hartwell. I really liked that. It was getting physicists, mathematicians—everybody who could contribute—to work very intensively for a period of two or three months. After Hartwell there was a project called Project Charles, which was actually two years long (two summers and the time in between). It was on air defense. I was a member of that study. They needed one psychologist and 20 physicists. That led to the creation of the Lincoln Laboratory. It got started immediately as the applied section of the Research Laboratory for Electronics, which was already a growing concern at MIT.

Man-Computer Symbiosis, 1960[edit]

J.C.R. Licklider (1960). "Man-Computer Symbiosis". In: Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE-1 (March). p. 4-11.
  • It seems reasonable to envision, for a time 10 or 15 years hence, a 'thinking center' that will incorporate the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval.
    The picture readily enlarges itself into a network of such centers, connected to one another by wide-band communication lines and to individual users by leased-wire services. In such a system, the speed of the computers would be balanced, and the cost of the gigantic memories and the sophisticated programs would be divided by the number of users.
    • Cited in: Jacques Berleur, Markku I. Nurminen, John Impagliazzo (2006) Social Informatics: An Information Society for All? p. 436.
  • Present-day computers are designed primarily to solve preformulated problems or to process data according to predetermined procedures. The course of the computation may be conditional upon results obtained during the computation, but all the alternatives must be foreseen in advance. … The requirement for preformulation or predetermination is sometimes no great disadvantage. It is often said that programming for a computing machine forces one to think clearly, that it disciplines the thought process. If the user can think his problem through in advance, symbiotic association with a computing machine is not necessary.
    However, many problems that can be thought through in advance are very difficult to think through in advance. They would be easier to solve, and they could be solved faster, through an intuitively guided trial-and-error procedure in which the computer cooperated, turning up flaws in the reasoning or revealing unexpected turns in the solution. Other problems simply cannot be formulated without computing-machine aid. … One of the main aims of man-computer symbiosis is to bring the computing machine effectively into the formulative parts of technical problems.
    The other main aim is closely related. It is to bring computing machines effectively into processes of thinking that must go on in "real time," time that moves too fast to permit using computers in conventional ways. Imagine trying, for example, to direct a battle with the aid of a computer on such a schedule as this. You formulate your problem today. Tomorrow you spend with a programmer. Next week the computer devotes 5 minutes to assembling your program and 47 seconds to calculating the answer to your problem. You get a sheet of paper 20 feet long, full of numbers that, instead of providing a final solution, only suggest a tactic that should be explored by simulation. Obviously, the battle would be over before the second step in its planning was begun. To think in interaction with a computer in the same way that you think with a colleague whose competence supplements your own will require much tighter coupling between man and machine than is suggested by the example and than is possible today.

Libraries of the future, 1965[edit]

J. C. R. Licklider (1965) Libraries of the future. Cambridge, Mass., M.I.T. Press
  • [The computer is also the direct descendant of the telegraph as it enables one... to] "transmit information without transporting material"
    • p. 6 as cited in: Rodney James Giblett (2008) Sublime communication technologies. p. 175.
  • It should be possible, in a 'debreviation' mode, to type 'clr' on the keyboard and have 'The Council on Library Resources, Inc.' appear on the display.
    • p. 100 as cited in: Recent advances in display media (1982). Vol. 3, p. 177.
  • One must be prepared to reject not only the schema of the physical library, which is essentially a response to books and their proliferation, but the schema of the book itself, and even that of the printed page as a long term storage device, if one is to discover the kinds of procognitive systems needed in the future.
    • As cited in: Ching-chih Chen (1980) Quantitative measurement and dynamic library service. p. 52.

About Licklider[edit]

  • Lick had this concept of the intergalactic network which he believed was everybody could use computers anywhere and get at data anywhere in the world. He didn't envision the number of computers we have today by any means, but he had the same concept-all of the stuff linked together throughout the world, that you can use a remote computer, get data from a remote computer, or use lots of computers in your job. The vision was really Lick's originally. None oof us can really claim to have seen that before him nor{can} anybody in the world. Lick saw this vision in the early sixties. He didn't have a clue how to build it. He didn't have any idea how to make this happen. But he knew it was important, so he sat down with me and really convinced me that it was important and convinced me into making it happen
    • Roberts in S. Segaller (1998). Nerds: A Brief History of the Internet. New York: TV Books.
  • More than a decade will pass before personal computers emerge from the garages of Silicon Valley, and a full thirty years before the Internet explosion of the 1990s. The word computer still has an ominous tone, conjuring up the image of a huge, intimidating device hidden away in an overlit, air-conditioned basement, relentlessly processing punch cards for some large institution: them.
    Yet, sitting in a non-descript office in McNamara's Pentagon, a quiet forty-seven-year-old civilian is already planning the revolution that will change forever the way computers are perceived. Somehow, the occupant of that office - a former MIT psychologist named J. C. R. Licklider - has seen a future in which computers will empower individuals, instead of forcing them into rigid conformity. He is almost alone in his conviction that computers can become not just superfast calculating machines, but joyful machines: tools that will serve as new media of expression, inspirations to creativity, and gateways to a vast world of online information. And now he is determined to use the Pentagon's money to make that vision a reality....
    • Waldrop, M. Mitchell (2001). The Dream Machine: J. C. R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal. New York: Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-89976-3.  (dust jacket flap).

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