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J.C.R. Licklidder

11 March 1915, St. Louis, Mo, USA
26 june 1990, Arlington, Ma, USA




principal papers

1960 Published "Man-Computer Symbiosis"
1965 Published Libaries of the Future
1968 with Robert Taylor "The Computer as Communication Device"



ARPA, internet

see also

related subjects


Professor J.C.R. Licklider, widely recognized for his pioneering work that established the basis for computing concepts such as timesharing and resource sharing,


Dr. Licklider, who held advanced degrees in psychology, was among the first to recognize that the fullest potential of the computer could only be achieved by improving the human user's ability to interact with it.
In turn, he saw that the computer could do more than just provide data. It could also aid its users in thinking, understanding and decision making.

In the spring of 1957, while he continued to carry out the duties of an MIT researcher and professor, Dr. J.C.R. Licklider noted every task he did during the day and kept track of each one. He didn't know it then, but that unofficial experiment prepared the way for the invention of interactive computing--the technology that bridged yesteryear's number crunchers and tomorrow's mind amplifiers.
Licklider's research specialty was psychoacoustics. During World War II, he had explored ways electronics could be applied to understanding human communications. Specifically, he wanted to learn how the human ear and brain are able to convert atmospheric vibrations into the perception of distinct sounds. After the way, MIT was the center of a number of different attempts to use electronic mechanisms to model parts of the nervous system--a movement in biology and psychology as well as engineering that was inspired by the work of Norbert Wiener and others in the interdisciplinary field of cybernetics. Licklider was one of the researchers attracted to this paradigm, not strictly out of the desire to build a new kind of machine, but out of the need for new ways to simulate the activities of the human brain. This need, inspired by cybernetics, was extended simultaneously into engineering and physiology. Computers were the last thing on Licklider's mind--until his theoretical models of human perceptual mechanisms got out of hand.

Professor Licklider outlined his vision for improving the human-computer dialogue--he called it the "man-computer symbiosis"--in a number of papers published in the early 1960s.

The first recorded description of the social interactions that could be enabled through networking was a series of memos written by J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962 discussing his "Galactic Network" concept. He envisioned a globally interconnected set of nodes through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. In spirit, the concept was very much like the Internet of today. Licklider was the first head of the computer research program at DARPA, starting in October 1962. While at DARPA he convinced his successors at ARPA, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and MIT researcher Lawrence G. Roberts, of the importance of this networking concept.

The program he outlined for achieving this symbiosis was supported by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) of the Department of Defense, which established the first large-scale experimental computer science research projects at universities across the nation, a group that became known as "the ARPA community." Out of that effort came the basis for timesharing, virtual memory and resource sharing.

The first of the university computer science laboratories was Project MAC at MIT. Professor Licklider was director of Project MAC (now the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science) from 1968-70.

Professor Licklider also made important contributions in the application of computers to modern libaries, introducing the concepts of digital computers and telecommunications into the processes of information
storage and retrieval. In the mid 1980s he developed a system of graphical programming that made it possible to construct computer programs by drawing diagrams on a computer screen instead of writing
numerical and symbolic expressions.

In March, Professor Licklider was one of six world figures who shared the 1990 Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service. He received the award, which recognized his work in computer networking and computer-human interaction, in the science and invention category. Professor Licklider was nominated for the honor by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.

He is survived by his wife, Louise Carpenter Licklider. Also surviving are his children, Tracy Robnett Licklider of Cambridge and Linda Licklider Smith of Arlington; his grandchildren, Allison R. Smith and
Zachary Licklider; his daughter-in-law, Janann (Garrity) Licklider, and his son-in-law, Dr. Lorne A. Smith.



Professor Licklider held the BA from Washington University, majored in physics, mathematics and psychology.

Master's degree in psychology from Washington University.

Receives his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester. Thesis "An Electrical Investigation of Frequency-Localization in the Auditory Cortex of the Cat."

Early WWII Research Associate at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA
Studied Gestalt psychology with Wolfgang Koeller

Research Fellow in the Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, advancing "theories of pitch perception and the intelligibility of speech" (NYT 7/3/90) "Interested in high-altitude communication, particularly in ways of compressing speech to increase the carrying power of radio and stuff like that." (Annals, 14, 2, p. 16.) Fano said, "There was some very substantial work that he did during the war .... He did something called "clipped speech"-- he invented [it]: it worked very well." (Annals) Numerous scientific papers published e.g., Jour. Acous. Soc. Am.

Researcher at Harvard University's Psycho-Acoustics Laboratory and a lecturer at Harvard University, where he
advanced theories of pitch perception and the intelligibility of speech.

Lecturer at Harvard "mainly doing research, but also a little bit of teaching ... statistics and physiological
psychology ... subjects like that" (Babbage interview) "At that time Norbert Wiener ran a circle that was very
attractive to people all over Cambridge, and on Tuesday nights I went to that." (Annals, Vol 14 no 2 p.16)

Participated in Project Hartwell (Navy supported research concerning underseas warfare and overseas transport)

Participant in Project Charles (Air Force study of air defense). "At that time, some of the more impressionable ones of us were expecting there would be 50,000 Soviet bombers coming in over here." (Annals) Lead to the creation of Lincoln Laboratories. "I was trying to model how the brain works in hearing with an analog computer .... My time was divided a third time acoustics lab, a third time trying to build a psychology section ..., and one third in the Lincoln Laboratory... really had to learn digital computing, because I couldn't do this stuff with analog computers" (Annals)

Went as Associate Professor to Massachusetts Institute of Technology to "start up a psychology section which we hoped would eventually become a Psychology Department ... in the Electrical Engineering Department ... taught a little bit of electrical engineering."

Joins Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., as vice president and
as head of the departments of psychoacoustics, engineering psychology
and information systems research.

Elected president of the Acoustical Society of America.

Did research and management work at BBN using DEC PDP-I Worked under Council on library Resources grant (1991-3) "I was having such a marvelous time at BBN, working on computer based library stuff and all kinds of aural radar." (Annals) Did "a little study ... on how I would spend my time. It showed that almost all my time was spent on algorithmic things that were no fun, but they were all necessary for the few heuristic things that seemed important. I had this little picture in my mind how we were going to get people and computers really thinking together." (Annals)

Named director for Information Processing Techniques and for Behavioral Sciences with ARPA in Washington, D.C.
Directed ARPA information processing technology and behavioral sciences section (IPTO 1963-4). Encouraged research into time-sharing at MIT, SDC, Berkeley, UCLA, etc and distributed enough money to incubate the formation of computer science departments that eventually would be linked up via the ARPNET. (Funding for Project MAC started in 1963.) Fano said, Licklider was "very different from most heads of branches of the government, .... not sitting in your office waiting for proposals to arrive after sending out a brochure ... running around the country trying to generate enthusiasm." (Annals)

Manager of Information Sciences, Systems and Applications at the Thomas J. Watson Center of International Business Machines. Lived near Mt. Kisco, NY.

Participant in EduCom Summer Study on Information Networks at Boulder Colorado planning EduNet.

Rreturned to MIT as director of Project MAC and as a professor in the Department
of Electrical Engineering


He directs the Information Processing Techniques Office ( IPTO) in Washington

Professor at MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS)

Professor Licklider becoms emeritus professor at MIT (1988 had 8MB RAM 150MB HD computer on his desk.)


Honors and awards

Franklin V. Taylor Award, Society of Engineering Psychologists

1990 Common Wealth Awards of Distinguished Service.

Memberships: National Academy of Sciences, Acoustic Society of America, Academy of Arts and Sciences, Association for Computing Machinery




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Footnotes & References

1 web.mit.edu/newsoffice
2 http://www.columbia.edu/~jrh29/years.html
3 fusionanomaly.net
4 photo: Koby-Antupit