In the early 1960s, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there was a disagreement about what computers would achieve. One faction, led by John McCarthy and Marvin Minsky, championed “artificial intelligence”, believing that computers would gradually replace human beings. The other, led by Norbert Wiener and JCR Licklider, the man who oversaw the creation of the internet’s precursor, championed “human-computer symbiosis”, believing that computers would augment human beings.
“Man-computer symbiosis is an expected development in co-operative interaction between men and electronic computers,” wrote Licklider in a crucial essay published in 1960. “It will involve very close coupling between the human and the electronic members of the partnership.” In his arresting analogy, computers would be to us as fig wasps are to fig trees: symbiotic partners.
Looking around us, Licklider was right. Augmentation rather than replacement triumphed.
Read more: No need to fear the rise of the machines