J.C.R. Licklider (1915-1990)

Joseph Licklider

J.C.R. Licklider may well be one of the most influential people in the history of computer science. As Director of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), a division of the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), Licklider from 1963-64 put in place the funding priorities which would lead to the Internet, and the invention of the "mouse," "windows" and "hypertext." Together these elements comprise the foundation of our networked society, and it owes much of its existence to the man who held the purse-strings, and also created a management culture where graduate students were left to run a multi-million dollar research project.

Further information on J.C.R. Licklider is available on-line from two excellent sources. The first is Netizens Netbook, by Rhonda Hauben and Michael Hauben. You should look especially at chapters 5, 6, and 7 for information on Licklider. The second source is Tools For Thought, by Howard Rheingold. There you should look at chapter 7.

One of the most exciting sources you can check comes from J.C.R. Licklider himself. In two extraordinary papers, Man-Computer Symbiosis (1960) and The Computer as a Communications Device (1968, co-authored with Robert Taylor), Licklider describes his vision of computing (1960), which led to the funding priorities of IPTO and helps explain why the Internet was built, and discusses the future (1968), presciently arguing that by the Year 2000 millions of people would be on-line, connected by a global network. It seems he was right. Both papers can be downloaded in PDF format. These papers are available for non-commercial use only, courtesy of Robert Taylor and the Digital Equipment Corporation.

In order to read PDF files, you must have a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. You may get a copy here.

Photo Courtesy of the MIT Museum.

© by David S. Bennahum. Direct comments, bugs and so on to me at davidsol@panix.com.