Although I never had the privilege of meeting him, one of my personal heroes is J.C.R. Licklider, an MIT professor who became head of the Information Processing Technology Office at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now DARPA) in 1962.
Licklider helped jumpstart computer science as a discipline by providing funding to the universities that were first to establish Ph.D. programs in the field, including UC Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, and Carnegie Mellon. He also formed a group of researchers that he jokingly referred to as the Intergalactic Computer Network, many of whom went on to build the ARPANET, the predecessor to today’s Internet.
His writing is remarkably prescient. In 1968, for example, he wrote an article entitled The Computer as a Communications Device (pdf). In it he stated that “life will be happier for the on-line individual because the people with whom one interacts most strongly will be selected more by commonality of interests and goals than by accidents of proximity.” He also predicted future technological developments such as digital libraries, e-commerce, and online banking. This vision had a profound influence on the field of computer science, helping to spark a revolution in information and communications technologies (pdf).
I believe that one of the most important things that the Office of Science and Technology Policy can do is to shine a spotlight on the next “Lickliders”—researchers and innovators who have powerful ideas with the potential to produce significant economic and societal benefits. We hope that people with big ideas will work with the Administration to establish a foundation for the technologies and industries of the future, and address the “grand challenges” of the 21st century.
So—who do you think might be the Lickliders of this generation?
Tom Kalil is OSTP’s Deputy Director for Policy