The “Johnny Appleseed” of Computers

ENIAC computer, the first general purpose electronic digital computer

Computing’s “Johnny Appleseed”, J.C.R. Licklider, died on this day in 1990.

Coming from a diverse academic background, a bachelor’s degree with a triple major of physics, mathematics, and psychology, a master’s degree in psychology, and a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics, Licklider was destined for academic promise.

In 1950, Licklider transitioned from psychoacoustic study at Harvard to information technology research at MIT to uncover the intricacies of the infant computer. Different from his colleagues of the time, his contributions consisted of ideas rather than inventions.

Licklider was essential in conceiving, funding, and managing research that led to the modern personal computer and the internet. In 1960, his magnum-opus of academic writing, “Man-Computer-Symbiosis,” foreshadowed interactive computing and application development.

Licklider has been credited as an early proponent of ease-of-use, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence, but never believed A.I. would replace human beings. In his own words, “Men will set the goals, formulate the hypotheses, determine the criteria, and perform the evaluations. Computing machines will do the [routine] work that must be done to prepare the way for insights and decisions in technical and scientific thinking.”

His sentiments echo throughout the technological space to this day.