of Hypertext and Graphical User Interfaces

The journey starts in 1960. Joseph Licklider (*1915 †1990) wrote the article Man-Computer Symbiosis [Licklider 60] in which he proposes interactive computing as a new paradigm to make use of the computer. Two years later he became the first director of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) at ARPA. IPTO’s objective was to devise new utilization of computers other than plain computation. Especially the military was looking for computer systems that support decision processes with short response times. To Licklider this was pretty much the same as his vision of Man-Computer Symbiosis (cf. 3.1.1). During the 1960s IPTO funded several research projects to develop time-sharing computer systems and information processing projects.

3.1.1 Man-Computer Symbiosis

in Vision and Reality of Hypertext and Graphical User Interfaces

Bob Taylor describes the first generation of human-computer interaction in the following way – cited by Stephen Segaller [Segaller 98, p. 39]),

“[In] those days to work with a computer you had to go punch a bunch of holes in either paper tape or cards. Then you had to take these cards to the computer room and turn them over to someone usually with a white coat on. That’s called batch processing.”

Mainframe computers used to be the size of rooms. Frequently turn around cycles for the user took entire days, sometimes only to figure out that the program contained a syntax error. This depicts the atmosphere in which Joseph Licklider envisions a tight cooperation between human and computer. In his article Man-Computer Symbiosis [Licklider 60] he adopts the biological term symbiosis for the relation, because each part has qualities that the other lacks. A computer can solve faster and more accurately mathematical and logical tasks. It can better perform mechanical routine tasks like sorting and searching for information. On the other hand humans are superior at redundant natural languages. Many typical tasks of a scientist include determining the logical consequences for a given situation and preparing the arguments that support a theory or a new insight. A symbiotic system is beneficial for both participants and has qualities that neither of the parts alone is able to do. Licklider envisions an interactive ensemble between human and computer. He calls for a computer that supports the scientist in a way that is much more direct and intensive than anything that seems to be possible with the mainframes of the 1950s and 1960s. Licklider writes [Ibid., p. 133]:

One of the main aims of man-computer symbiosis is to bring the computing machine effectively into the formulative parts of technical problems. The other main aim is closely related. It is to bring computing machines effectively into processes of thinking that must go on in “real time,” times that moves too fast to permit using computers in conventional ways.

He continues [Ibid.],

To think in interaction with a computer in the same way that you think with a colleague whose competence supplements your own will require much tighter coupling between man and machine […] than is possible today.

It should not be neglected that Licklider gives also the example of a military commander, who has to make critical decisions in less than 10 minutes. A tactical analysis with a response time of days is unusable in this situation.

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