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Vannevar Bush

An electrical engineer by training, Vannevar Bush is credited with having the idea of hypertext or "instant cross-referencing," decades before the term itself was conceived by Ted Nelson and before the concept was widely implemented on the World Wide Web. In an article in The Atlantic Monthly in 1945, Bush described his proposed "memex" device, an electronic stored-information system, an aide-de-memoire for mankind. Humans, Bush argued, have associative memories where information is accessed by following a series of mental links and pathways. His hypertext system incorporated this idea, allowing users to tie information together logically as well as to annotate it and link the annotations to the body of data already present.

The bulk of Bush's career was spent at MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering where he became Dean. His mathematical work for the military during World War Two led to his invention of the first analog computer, the Rockefeller Differential Analyser, soon rendered obsolete by the first digital computers (whose invention was spurred by the work of one of the RDA's engineers - Claude Shannon). The Differential Analyser was notable for its use of decimal rather than the binary number system. As an advisor to several presidents, Bush was arguably the most powerful scientist in the post-war United States. He was the driving force behind the founding of the National Science Foundation.

In 1980, the National Science Board established the Vannevar Bush award to honor those scientists who make outstanding contributions to the public service. Bush's primary legacy remains that of the hypertext concept - he is remembered as a forefather of the World Wide Web .

This was last updated in March 2008

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