Tool for Thought

Steven Johnson in the New York Times Book Review:

The word processor has changed the way we write, but it hasn’t yet changed the way we think.

Changing the way we think, of course, was the cardinal objective of many early computer visionaries: Vannevar Bush’s seminal 1945 essay that envisioned the modern, hypertext-driven information machine was called ”As We May Think”; Howard Rheingold’s wonderful account of computing’s pioneers was called ”Tools for Thought.” Most of these gurus would be disappointed to find that, decades later, the most sophisticated form of artificial intelligence in our writing tools lies in our grammar checkers.

But 2005 may be the year when tools for thought become a reality for people who manipulate words for a living, thanks to the release of nearly a dozen new programs all aiming to do for your personal information what Google has done for the Internet. These programs all work in slightly different ways, but they share two remarkable properties: the ability to interpret the meaning of text documents; and the ability to filter through thousands of documents in the time it takes to have a sip of coffee. Put those two elements together and you have a tool that will have as significant an impact on the way writers work as the original word processors did.

More here.