As We May Think | Study Guide

Vannevar Bush

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As We May Think | Context


World War II

Bush wrote "As We May Think" at a pivotal time in American history. The United States entered World War II (1939–1945) in 1941.The United States was allied with Great Britain, the Soviet Union, and a few other countries. Historians refer to them as the Allies. The Allies fought against the Axis powers which included Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan. The Allies declared victory against Germany and Italy in Europe in May 1945.

When Bush's article was published, the United States was a month away from ending the war by dropping atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Bush played an important role in the creation of the bomb. A revised version of his article was printed shortly after the atomic bombs were dropped.

Manhattan Project

During World War II, scientists worked to help the war effort and created many destructive devices. The most destructive of these devices was the atomic bomb. In 1942 the United States started to work on creating an atomic bomb. Bush worked on this secret project called the Manhattan Project. As part of the project, the United States successfully detonated the first atomic bomb in July 1945. The creation of the atomic bomb marked one of the first times when technology could have ended all human existence. Because Bush was working on the Manhattan Project, the power of the atomic age influenced his thinking.

Computers in 1945

In 1937 John V. Atanasoff (1903–95) and Clifford Berry (1918–63) created the first electronic digital computer. This machine could only solve linear equations. British codebreakers worked on a set of computers called the Colossus from 1943 to 1945. This machine was able to crack the Nazis' secret code, and the British and United States forces gained valuable information on the German military's plans. This computer was huge and took up a large room. In 1945 computers could only perform one task at a time and had no operating system.

Vision of the Future

In "As We May Think," Bush describes how scientists must transition from wartime efforts to peacetime work. Because of the war, scientific knowledge was rapidly increasing. Bush worried that the information collected would become unusable because of its sheer volume. Computers would help with this problem. In his article Bush proposes a machine called the memex which would make information more accessible and organized. Bush predicted personal home computers, hypertext, the World Wide Web, and other information technology. His article was truly visionary.

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