[ih] Historical Tracing from Concept to Reality over 5 decades?

Steve Crocker steve at shinkuro.com
Mon Jul 6 12:25:04 PDT 2020


The original visions fo Lick, the AI senior people -- Simon, Newell,
McCarthy, Minsky, Engelbart and others repeatedly animated ARPA sponsored
computer science research over many years.  Some ideas attempted and
reattempted.  Hardware was often (always?) a gating factor, but, of course,
there was also a learning curve.  From mid 1971 to mid 194 I oversaw the
first few years of the Speech Understanding Program.  The goal was
understanding connected speech input in a constrained task environment.
1,000 word vocabulary, standard American male broadcast speech in a clean
environment.  No requirement to operate in real time.  There are traceable
tracks from that work to today's Alexa, Siri, et al.  Lick had a vision of
a unified library.  I'm not sure today's Google is quite what he had in
mind, but it's quite astonishing nonetheless.

David Alan Grier and I are working on a history of the Arpanet.  We've been
trying to describe the context, i.e. the state of the art and the
motivation, and that's led us inevitably into the broader context of the
goals for man machine interaction during that period.  We certainly won't
be able to include all the threads from that period, so there is room for
multiple histories to be written.


On Mon, Jul 6, 2020 at 2:51 PM Jack Haverty via Internet-history <
internet-history at elists.isoc.org> wrote:

> For a while now, I've been curious about how ideas progress from
> brainstorm to
> reality, and the recent mention of Licklider's vision reminded me.  So a
> question for the historians out there -- has anyone traced an
> Internet-related
> idea from concept decades ago to reality today?
> There's a specific idea that I have in mind.  Back in the early 70s,
> Licklider
> ("Lick") was my thesis advisor and later boss of the group where I worked
> at
> MIT.  Lick had a vision of "verbs" and "nouns", roughly meaning
> subroutines and
> data structures, that could be used to put together "sentences,
> paragraphs, and
> documents", meaning computer subroutine libraries and programs.  These
> "documents" would interact with each other across the "intergalactic
> computer
> network".
> Having been brainwashed by Lick, I'm admittedly biased, but that sure
> sounds
> pretty close to what we have today, 50 years later.
> Back in the 70s, part of Lick's vision was also that you could write
> libraries
> of subroutines to create a dictionary of "verbs" and standardized data
> structures , or "nouns", and through some magic (APIs) plug them
> together into
> sentences, aka programs, to do useful work.
> Our group spent a lot of time, as part of an ARPA effort called "Automatic
> Programming", to build such a system, called "CALICO" (which stood for
> something
> but I can't remember what). The "dictionary" of pieces was well-documented
> (eeerr, uuhm, sorta kinda - we weren't big on documentation) and in a
> searchable
> database for use by subsequent programmers.
> But the technology of the era dictated using PDP-10 assembly language,
> text-only
> terminals, and the now appallingly slow ARPANET.   None of this was
> especially
> portable and has long since disappeared.
> Fast forward to 2020.  I recently stumbled across a technology called
> NodeRed,
> somehow associated with IBM, which provides a "palette" of components
> which do
> interesting things -- i.e., the "verbs" and "nouns" in Lick's
> terminology.  The
> programming environment is a blank screen, onto which you drag the
> pieces you
> need, and then "wire" them together to create functional programming.   You
> create your program by literally drawing a picture.  The Internet
> provides the
> necessary communications substrate on which all these actors perform.
> People
> can readily create new "verbs" and submit them to the library.
> IMHO, Lick would have loved this.
> I've been using NodeRed to create some simple home automation programs,
> e.g.,
> stuff like turning on lights when motion sensors trigger.   Or send me
> email
> when something unusual is detected.  Or almost anything else you can
> think of.
> It really is very simple to use.  I can see the parallels between Lick's
> 70s
> vision and today's actual implementations.   Instead of a PDP-10 and
> today I just use a Raspberry Pi and Wifi.
> So, my curiosity is how the world got from point A to point B.  There
> were lots
> of people who encountered Lick over the years, e.g., at MIT, ARPA,
> etc.   There
> were lots of students who passed through Lick's group on their way to
> careers.
> Did Lick's vision travel with some of them and influence the appearance of
> NodeRed 50 years later?   Or was it some totally different evolution from
> someone's else's similar vision?
> Do Internet Historians perform these kinds of "genealogy" traces of the
> evolution of technical ideas from concept to widespread use?   How did
> something
> like NodeRed come from vision to reality?
> /Jack Haverty (MIT LCS 1969-1977)
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