Great minds think alike

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"We speculate that Bush did not independently originate the notion of an electronic microfilm selector, although that was possible. It is not surprising that the same invention sometimes occurs independently and more or less simultaneously when a need is present and the technology becomes ripe. Inventors prefer inventing to copying." ~ Emanuel Goldberg, Electronic Document Retrieval, and Vannevar Bush's Memex


Although, as the above article states, both Eastman Kodak and IBM in the United States were aware of Goldberg's tremendous photographical breakthroughs and his conception of a photoelectric microfilm selector, Vannevar Bush is perhaps the researcher who is most known for attempting to physically create a working prototype of this kind. But I don't think that this means that Bush "copied" or "stole" Goldberg's ideas because Bush's invention achieved a rapid prototype microfilm selector that would have been comparable to the first motor-equipped boat overtaking a simple row boat.

One of the reasons leading me to think that Goldberg was not originally well known for his microfilm processing ideas was because Bush published the popular theoretical article "As We May Think," while Goldberg was left to the wayside by historical circumstances that surrounded the world in World War II. Due to his Jewish heritage and the severe anti-semitism, Goldberg was forced to flee the European continent to continue both his life and his work. It's said that history is written by the conquerors, and that is exactly what the Nazis (and the countries they occupied) did when they essentially erased the work of numerous scientists and inventors on account of being Jewish or resisting Nazis rule.

But the above quote also says, "It is not surprising that the same invention sometimes occurs independently and more or less simultaneously when a need is present and the technology becomes ripe." With the world advancing every day in the area of technology, it seems that two or more individuals somewhere, somehow, will have the same idea and possibly attempt to invent it. Look at the development of writing and the wide breadth of languages that we have in the world: no two are exactly alike though there may be similarities in parts of them. This is how I feel that Bush did not infringe on Goldberg's idea, though I do wonder what these two scientists would have cooked up between them if they had belonged to a "Microfilm/Photography Scientists Tweet Group." Then both Goldberg and Bush would have known about each other's ideas and might have saw fit to combine their original plans to invent a super-rapid microfilm sorting machine. Only history knows for sure.

Anyways, I sure am glad that we have moved past the realm of micro films and firmly into the digital age when it comes to sorting. I've noticed far too often that I become slightly cranky when I can't press a few shortcut keys and pull up a search bar in printed documents.

If you like, take a read through what my peers have to say on Goldberg versus Bush and their respective inventions.

3 Comments

You brought up a point that I did not really consider in my blog, Maddie, and that was the fact that Bush did create machines that improved those that came before his, even if he never created the Memex. My blog was provoked by my questions about why it seemed (at least according to Buckland) that no one knew about Goldberg's inventions, or even perhaps that if they did know, they chose to steal or borrow from him without giving credit. Although I liked that Buckland pointed out that the same sort of invention can be created at the same time in different parts of the world, this does not mean that they could not also collaborate (and yes, twitter would have really helped them to do this, but they still could collaborate in other ways). Buckland provides reasons for Bush having at least some knowledge of Goldberg’s inventions, even if they were property of the companies for which he worked, which makes me think that his criticism is more focused on researches who do not make these connections than the actual people who took or shared ideas. This certainly happens very often-ideas are suggested, learned from, and applied, which allows us to develop our communication systems, and even other areas. As you and Buckland suggest, Maddie, this development is spurred by needs of the community, but basically, this collaboration, willfully given or not, is the only way that anything can develop. I think that in my blog, I was too harsh in my initial reactions to Bush’s Memex because his actual inventions, and even his ideas, helped to develop or spark ideas that developed the technologies that we have today, as Chelsea suggested on her blog.

Sean Maiolo said:

That is a really interesting perspective that I should have taken more time to examine. It is almost uncanny how one idea always seems to be shared between two different individuals and how 99 percent of the time those two individuals each go their own separate way with the idea. It's almost as if going on their own unique path with whatever technology they have discovered helps give each person a sense or claim of originality to it, even though most of what they deem to be original mirrors that of the other inventor's.

I suppose your blog entry really forces me to challenge my definition of originality when it comes to technology. It also sort of sheds some light on the pre-inventors, that is to say those who developed the unheralded ideas that served as precursors to the big invention that we all pay too much attention to, whatever that invention may be. That also goes back to the copyright discussion I remember us having about ideas and how they cannot be copyrighted. Similarly, if one inventor has an idea but for whatever reason can't see it through but another can, there is no ideological theft. Sure it might suck for the first guy but in the end people will, or at least they should, look back at him and say "he got the ball rolling" and recognize just how important that was. Ultimately, all of that will benefit everyone.

Megan Seigh said:

I would also have to agree with you that Bush did not "copy" Goldberg's idea. I believe this because like you said, something there is a certain need for a tool or a shortcut and there could be thousands of people that know about that need, and then among that group there is bound to be people who think up the same kind of invention. I do not mean an identical invention, but the same idea. This was the case with Bush and Goldberg. There was the same idea that formed but Bush was able to take it further. Sure, we don't know what could have happened if Goldberg was not caught up with the war and slightly dropping out of radar. For all we know, he could have been the one to eventually publicize his ideas first, but that wasn't the case. As a result, we have Bush who got his prototype of Memex out their and in turn got some credit for his ideas. It is interesting to note what would have happened if they could have collaborated in this technology. It might have been groundbreaking. However, who is to say that two people can't get together now and come up with a brilliant idea instead of the thousands of people who only want the glory and fame for themselves. Let's work together!

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This page contains a single entry by MadelynGillespie published on April 26, 2010 11:55 PM.

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