Notes for J. C. R. Licklider “Man-Computer Symbiosis” (1960)

Key concepts: real-time, trie memory.

Related theorists: Douglas Engelbart, Fredkin.


Soon after the second world war, Licklider promotes aims of letting computers facilitate formulative thinking as well as solving formulated problems, so that together in symbiosis, humans and machines can make decisions in complex situations, and he offers an explicit vision of technological prerequisites to achieve social goals, such as time sharing, memory hardware, programming languages, and input output equipment that is well tracked by the ensuing history: we can now see how them implemented in ontological assumptions of Rushkoff for the ten commands to make sense.

(74) The main aims are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs. . . . Prerequisites for the achievement of the effective, cooperative association include developments in computer time sharing, in memory components, in memory organization, in programming languages, and in input and output equipment.

1 Introduction
1.1 Symbiosis

1.2 Between “Mechanically Extended Man” and “Artificial Intelligence”

2 Aims of Man-Computer Symbiosis

The conventional way of using computers is to formulate the program, program it, feed in the data, compute the result, then analyze the results on paper; time-sharing systems hosting applications on dynamic displays do well at satisfying real time requirements now.

(75) 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.

3 Need for Computer Participation in Formulative and Real-Time Thinking
3.1 A Preliminary and Informal Time-and-Motion Analysis of Technical Thinking

Outlining and project management software addresses study of mental work now.

(76) I could find nothing comparable to a time-and-motion-study analysis of the mental work of a person engaged in a scientific or technical enterprise.

More time spent finding information than digesting it reveals clerical purpose for computers.

(76) Much more time when into finding or obtaining information than into digesting it.
(76) In short, my “thinking” time was devoted mainly to activities that were essentially clerical or mechanical: searching, calculating, plotting, transforming, determining the logical or dynamic consequences of a set of assumptions or hypotheses, preparing the way for a decision or an insight. Moreover, my choices of what to attempt and what not to attempt were determined to an embarrassingly great extent by considerations of clerical feasibility, not intellectual capability.

Already notion that programmability applies to humans as well as machines, the latter single minded in sense of being constrained by preprogramming, although single execution thread founds basic notion of computability in Von Neumann architecture and Turing machine.

(76) Men are flexible, capable of “programming themselves contingently” on the basis of newly received information. Computing machines are single-minded, constrained by their “pre-programming.”

4 Separable Functions of Men and Computers in the Anticipated Symbiotic Association

Computers will perform routinizable, clerical operations filling intervals between human decisions; today, intermediation filling intervals between human media consumption.

(77) Men will fill in the gaps, either in the problem solution or in the computer program, when the computer has no mode or routine that is applicable in a particular circumstance.
(77) In general, it will carry out the routinizable, clerical operations that fill the intervals between decisions.

5 Prerequisites for Realization of Man-Computer Symbiosis
5.1 Speed Mismatch Between Men and Computers

Speed and cost of computers does not foster real-time cooperative thinking, making time-sharing a desirable enhancement.

(77) Any present-day large-scale computer is too fast and too costly for real-time cooperative thinking with one man. . . . Time-sharing systems are currently under active development.

Licklider did not anticipate proliferation of low-cost personal computer first, followed by their massive internetworking into the present day Internet that does embody his prediction of thinking centers based on time-sharing machines.

(78) 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 and the symbiotic functions suggested earlier in this paper. . . . 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.

5.2 Memory Hardware Requirements

Licklider did not foresee the massive capabilities of secondary storage devices that does permit more data to be stored in computer memory than books, although books are still in use for other reasons like reading convenience.

(78) The first thing to face is that well shall not store all the technical and scientific papers in computer memory. . . . Books are among the most beautifully engineered, and human-engineered, components in existence, and they will continue to be functionally important within the context of man-computer symbiosis.

5.3 Memory Organization Requirements

Retrieval by name and pattern demands associative memory.

(78) Implicit in the idea of man-computer symbiosis are the requirements that information be retrievable both by name and by pattern and that it be accessible through procedure much faster than serial search.

Goals of Fredkin trie memory example are essentially similar to affordances of modern file systems and RDMS, seeking same goals as Bush for associative indexing.

(78) Trie memory is so called by its originator, Fredkin, because it is designed to facilitate retrieval of information and because the branching storage structure, when developed, resembles a tree.

5.4 The Language Problem

Instructions viewed as specifying courses for computers, goals for humans.

(79) In short: instructions directed to computers specify courses; instructions directed to human beings specify goals.

Perhaps this idea programs connected like natural language is embodied in modern user-interface-driven software, given his recognition of the limitations of batch mode processing.

Object-oriented computing also embodies this idea of connecting computer operations like words and phrases of speech for moment to moment operation bringing to real time what was formerly tediously handled.

(79) We may in due course see a serious effort to develop computer programs that can be connected together like the words and phrases of speech to do whatever computation or control is required at the moment.

5.5 Input and Output Equipment

Electric typewriter most effective communication channel between humans and machines.

(80) By and large, in generally available computers, however, there is almost no provision for any more effective, immediate man-machine communication than can be achieved with an electric typewriter.

Engelbart implemented many input and output devices to approach this goal of matching convenience of pencil and paper.

(80) Nowhere, to my knowledge, however, is there anything approaching the flexibility and convenience of the pencil and doodle pad or the chalk and blackboard used by men in technical discourse.

1) Desk-Surface Display and Control

Today we have office applications for text, number, graph, and drawing; some interfaces attempt to make the workspace shared and collaboratively editable.

(80) Certainly, for effective man-computer interaction, it will be necessary for the man and the computer to draw graphs and pictures and to write notes and equations to each other on the same display surface.

2) Computer-Posted Wall Display

The war room shared display.

(80) The large wall display and its associated system are relevant, of course, to symbiotic cooperation between a computer and a team of men.

3) Automatic Speech Production and Recognition

Cultural demand for speech synthesis and recognition because military commanders need to make quick decisions and are not expected to learn to type.

Hints at many-at-once potential of multiple concurrent multimodal language/information/text channels despite stereotypical gendered leadership role to whom the computer must most resemble order taking subordinates, whereas the biographical and ethnographic studies of the actual working groups who produce technology systems as all inclusive in the projective city lead to the programmers, circuit designers, and other information workers who actually instantiate this idealized comportment.

(80) one can hardly take a military commander or corporation president away from his work to teach him to type.
(81) It is easy to overdramatize the notion of the ten-minute war, but it would be dangerous to count on having more than ten minutes in which to make a critical decision. As military system ground environments and control centers grow in capability and complexity, therefore, a real requirement for automatic speech production and recognition in computers seems likely to develop.

Human listeners do a better job at making sense of sounds, being cognizant of embodied contexts, not merely because the technology exits to create sounds.

(81) speech production poses less severe problems of a technical nature than does automatic recognition of speech sounds.

2000 word vocabulary required for truly symbiotic level of interaction.

(81) For real-time interaction on a truly symbiotic level, however, a vocabulary of about 2000 words, e.g., 1000 words of something like basic English and 1000 technical terms, would probably be required. That constitutes a challenging problem. In the consensus of acousticians and linguists, construction of a recognizer of 2000 words cannot be accomplished now.

Context seems to be the problem: speech can be recognized in limited contexts, such as telephone based automated customer service systems for specific businesses.

(81) Now, however, many see a prospect of accelerating the acquisition of that knowledge with the aid of computer processing of speech signals, and not a few workers have the feeling that sophisticated computer programs will be able to perform well as speech-pattern recognizes even without the aid of much substantive knowledge of speech signals and processes.

Licklider, J. C. R. “Man-Computer Symbiosis.” The NewMediaReader. Eds. Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003. 74-81. 2003. Print.