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The Dream Machine

M. Mitchell Waldrop · 8 HN comments
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Amazon Summary
Behind every great revolution is a vision and behind perhaps the greatest revolution of our time, personal computing, is the vision of J.C.R. Licklider. He did not design the first personal computers or write the software that ran on them, nor was he involved in the legendary early companies that brought them to the forefront of our everyday experience. He was instead a relentless visionary that saw the potential of the way individuals could interact with computers and software. At a time when computers were a short step removed from mechanical data processors, Licklider was writing treatises on "human-computer symbiosis", "computers as communication devices", and a now not-so-unfamiliar "Intergalactic Network." His ideas became so influential, his passion so contagious, that Waldrop called him "computing's Johnny Appleseed. In a simultaneously compelling personal narrative and comprehensive historical exposition, Waldrop tells the story of the man who not only instigated the work that led to the internet, but also shifted our understanding of what computers were and could be. Included in this edition are also the original texts of Licklider's three most influential writings: 'Man-computer symbiosis' (1960), which outlines the vision that inspired the personal computer revolution of the 1970s; his 'Intergalactic Network' memo (1963), which outlines the vision that inspired the internet; and "The computer as a communication device" (1968, co-authored with Robert Taylor), which amplifies his vision for what the network could become.
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Hacker News Stories and Comments

All the comments and stories posted to Hacker News that reference this book.
Depending on how deep you want the answer to be?

On one of the levels without ww2 and the cold war afterwards — there would never be the Internet and modern computers as we know them [1]

On a philosophical level — as long as there is a dualism, there is a constant battle and interplay between the sides. So war in one form or another is as inevitable as peace.

In a sense the whole life itself is a constant battle between good and evil, chaos and order, entropy and information [2]

On the surface — scarced resources, justice, religions are just silly stories that people create for themselves to sugarcoat and rationalize those (or other) deeply embeded into the reality drivers.


[2] and other similar books

Also Jordan Peterson “maps of meaning” and any serious book on roots of religious myths and stories.

I recently read, and recommend, The Dream Machine - great walk throught this and many related topics and events.
Yes it is great, listening to audiobook now.

Also recommend ‘where wizards stay up late: the origins of the internet’ ‘Hackers’ ‘Masters of Doom’

Do the true implications of cybernetics escape us?

I highly recommend The Dream Machine[0] for an in-depth chronicle of the connections and influences that brought early computing to where it is today.


Good one. For an even earlier history, one should read 'The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture' by Brian Dear. The author spent decades researching and interviewing the pioneers. The PLATO system had chat rooms, instant messaging, screen savers, multiplayer games, flight simulators, crowdsourcing, interactive fiction, emoticons, e-learning (like MOOCs) etc.
The Dream Machine by Mitchell Waldrop [1] is an exceptional book documenting the early times in computing. Being a scientific journalist (Science and Nature magazines), he provides an unbiased account—which is not an easy job, to distill from first-person recollections—from Alan Turing up to the Mac.

And you will read it like you don't know how it's gonna end. Because that's how things happened.

(Really appreciate Patrick Collison and Stripe Press for re-publishing it)


> I think knowing the history of how we got to where we are helps to understand ot more.

This is a great attitude, especially in our largely ahistoric industry. I wish I thought this way when I started programming.

The book "The Dream Machine" [0] does a fantastic job going into the ideas driving the pioneers. It especially focuses on ARPA and PARC, so you'll get a nice overview of the ideas explored there. And it is a fun read too.

It was out of print for quite some time, until Stripe Press bought the rights and brought it back to print [1]. They also give it away at conferences, as they want more people to be exposed to the ideas of the book.



One book frequently overlooked when it comes to computer and internet history is The Dream Machine. It tells the story of J.C.R. Licklider, who was a psychology and computer science professor, and a director at ARPA. He had the vision for the "Intergalactic Computer Network" which became the Internet, and either directed or came into contact with nearly every project that created fundamental computing technologies.


The Dream Machine is a good read about the vision of J.C.R. Licklider, a man who instigated the work that led to the internet. It's a very well written book and gives great insight into the pre-web era of networking

Amazon link (non affiliate):

Reading this now and agree that it's very well-written.
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