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An Analog Fan Creating A Digital World: Vannevar Bush

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Our Digital Heroes brings you one tech-savvy icon every month to love and learn from. This month we bring you humble brainiac, Vannevar Bush.

Most famous for bridging the gap between military and technology, Bush also patented quite a few inventions during his career. Interestingly, he was not a fan of digital. So why should we bother with him?

Well, it is ironic that he should be such an advocate for analog capabilities, because his work would later lead to informational luxuries that we may take advantage of today. Take Wikipedia entries, for example. Their hyperlinks take readers deeper and wider than a traditional book ever could. Hyperlinks create a dreamy informational black hole that we can access in seconds, and would be nothing without Bush’s creation of the memex. Bush also constructed several other assets, including but not limited to analog computers capable of solving differential equations of up to 18 variables; which was quite impressive in 1945.

During World War II, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Bush to head the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development (OSRD). This was the first time technology and military operations were employed together in the United States. A humanitarian at heart, Vannevar stressed the importance of scientific research to national security and economic well-being.

A true innovator, this digital hero loved to lead. He coordinated upwards of six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare.

Now exposed to politics, Bush feared that the military’s new enthusiasm for research and development would ultimately prove detrimental to economic growth. In fact, the technocrats of this era will later be blamed by some as responsible for The Great Depression.

Today Bush is also remembered as a prophet in another field, computer science. His article entitled “As We May Think,” foreshadowed personal computers and the World Wide Web.

For Bush, this article was an extension of his work in analog computing and microfilm technology.


Not bad for someone who wasn’t too keen on digital.

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Bush was a well-known policymaker and public intellectual during World War II, when he was in effect the first presidential science advisor.

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Born in Everett, Massachusetts on 11th March, 1890, he was named after John Vannevar, a reverend and old friend of the family who had attended Tufts College with his father.

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The end of WWII marked the beginning of the end for Bush’s influence on the development of science policy. Bush published a work of both practical politics and political theory, Modern Arms and Free Men, in 1949. Widely discussed and reviewed, the book was Bush’s warning that the militarization of American science would harm the development of the economy.

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Subsequently, this system of funding and directing scientific research through the military became known as the Pentagon system, or the military-industrial complex.

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In Science, The Endless Frontier, his 1945 report to the President of the United States at the time, Bush called for an expansion of government support for science, and he pressed for the creation of the National Science Foundation.

From Here on Out…
Simply put, digital is inevitable. Whether or not you like it, the whole world will become digital. We might as well embrace it and use it to create a better world; the better normal. For this purpose, we get up every morning and work the hardest we can, to help great companies to succeed with their digital transformation journey. You should have a clear vision of the best possible digital future for your organization. As much as it is important to set digital goals, it is equally important to know where you are – we call this process digital maturity. From here on out, you must know where you are, where you’ve been, and where you are going. We’ve been waiting for you.



Sources
Britannica, Science History Institute, Access Genealogy


Digitopia Digest is a monthly newsletter showcasing the latest news in digital transformation. If you are determined to discover what to do next in your organization to achieve digital success or are simply interested in digital technology and innovation, please subscribe for updates.

Author avatar
Kali June Faulwetter