As long ago as the early 1960s, as Director of the American Petroleum Institute's
Central Abstracting and Indexing Service, I had to consider technology
and the coming of the Information Age. Computer specialists from various
petroleum companies met with me to discuss how technology might help in
automating our abstracting and indexing endeavors, in aiding users search
more efficiently, and in reducing costs. I went for broke, envisioned the
ideal, and asked whether computers could achieve what may even have seemed
outlandish to many who were present. In light of what computers can
do today, it's possible my vision may have been conservative. In any case,
the computer specialists said they could accomplish all I asked for at
the time, but ... that much of what I asked for would be very expensive.
From that moment on I have never had difficulty living with and using whatever technology offered. I realized then and there that I could govern technology; technology would never govern my final decisions. I was able to envision the ideal, but knew I would have to be able to compromise for what was practical ... what I could afford and what would be competitive. This is not an ideal world and one may never be reached. I doubt whether total intelligence for information retrieval can ever be achieved but it is important to strive for it. For me, it's been a top-to-bottom-to-top approach. Go for broke, know what you want to achieve, compromise when necessary and then start all over again as more and more technology becomes available. The bottom-to-top approach keeps one focussed only on the next step - not the highest and the best. With that approach the American Petroleum Institute's service was to be one the first to go online, instituted one of the early text-editing systems, and developed a machine indexing system that retrieves 70% of the required controlled terms automatically.
BRENNER'S LAW: Determine the best system you can foresee before designing
the system you can afford.
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