in Innovation

Tools for Thought

I just discovered Howard Rheingold’s Tools for Thought is online. It’s usefulness should be obvious from his introduction…

Tools for Thought is an exercise in retrospective futurism; that is, I wrote it in the early 1980s, attempting to look at what the mid 1990s would be like. My odyssey started when I discovered Xerox PARC and Doug Engelbart and realized that all the journalists who had descended upon Silicon Valley were missing the real story. Yes, the tales of teenagers inventing new industries in their garages were good stories. But the idea of the personal computer did not spring full-blown from the mind of Steve Jobs. Indeed, the idea that people could use computers to amplify thought and communication, as tools for intellectual work and social activity, was not an invention of the mainstream computer industry nor orthodox computer science, nor even homebrew computerists. If it wasn’t for people like J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Bob Taylor, Alan Kay, it wouldn’t have happened. But their work was rooted in older, equally eccentric, equally visionary, work, so I went back to piece together how Boole and Babbage and Turing and von Neumann — especially von Neumann – created the foundations that the later toolbuilders stood upon to create the future we live in today. You can’t understand where mind-amplifying technology is going unless you understand where it came from.