11 March 1915, St. Louis, Mo, USA

26 June 1990, Arlington, Ma, USA

His Character:

Licklider, or Lick (as he was commonly known) was an only and well-loved child, fascinated by model airplanes. He stood over six feet tall, with sandy brown hair and large blue eyes. Lick gave speeches without notes or rehersal, enthusing his listeners with insightful colloquia. He was renouned by colleagues for his problem-solving ability. Many have commented that Lick's most pronounced characteristic was that of his down-home Missouri accent.

From Wizards:
"He'd speak in this Missouri Ozark twang, and if you walked in off the street, you'd wonder, who the hell is this hayseed? But if you were working on the same problem, and listened to his formulation, listening to him would be like seeing the glow of the dawn.
- Bill McGill (a former colleague)

His Life:

Licklider's research specialty was psychoacoustics in which he held his PhD. 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. 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. Out of that effort came the basis for timesharing, virtual memory and resource sharing.

Professor Licklider also made important contributions in the application of computers to modern libraries, 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.


1937 Graduates from Washington University, with degrees awareded in three subjects: Physics, Mathematics and Psychology.
1938 Graduates with a Master's degree in psychology from Washington University.
1942 Receives his PhD in psychology from the University of Rochester. Thesis "An Electrical Investigation of Frequency-Localization in the Auditory Cortex of the Cat."
1943-52 Reasearch at Harvard and MIT
1952-53 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." 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
1957 Joins Bolt Beranek and Newman, Inc., as VP and head of the departments of psychoacoustics, engineering psychology and information systems research.
1958 Elected president of the Acoustical Society of America.
1959-62 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." 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.
1962-64 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.
1964-67 Manager of Information Sciences, Systems and Applications at the Thomas J. Watson Center of IBM. Lived near Mt. Kisco, NY.
1968-70 Returned to MIT as director of Project MAC and as a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering
1971-73 MIT
1974 He directs the Information Processing Techniques Office ( IPTO) in Washington
1975-86 Professor at MIT Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS)
1985 Professor Licklider becoms emeritus professor at MIT (1988 had 8MB RAM 150MB HD computer on his desk.)

Links: Interviews

Written by the THINK Protocols team, CS Dept, UT Austin
Please direct comments to Chris Edmondson-Yurkanan.