Computers don't think, yet. But when they do, it may be through the use of some database techniques now being hyped under the name "hypertext."
That's because hypertext database storage allows information to be handled by association instead of by index, which, when you think about it, makes a big difference - literally.When humans think, they can use the "that reminds me" and "I wonder" urges to link individual bits of knowledge into a pattern. Most traditional databases do it exactly the other way around, storing information by some artificial hierarchy - alphabetical order, for example - and getting it by means of a rigid index.
That's a sequential approach, one thing after the other, and computers are sequential machines, first following one instruction and then the next. But hypertext is non-sequential, allowing you to jump easily from walking boots to hiking trails to national parks to blister first aid. Easy, of course, if you or someone else has done the necessary coding.
Microcomputing's version of the technique is probably best known from Apple's Hypercard for the Mac II, Plus and SE machines, with Hypertalk, the programming language, but there are versions of hypertext available for IBM PC-AT compatibles as well.
The technique is important and interesting because, as the total of available knowledge expands, finding any particular bit of it becomes more and more difficult. Hypertext is a way of navigating that sea of information with greater efficiency.
The October issue of BYTE magazine (McGraw Hill, $3.50) has a solid explanation of hypertext and an interesting discussion of its origins, opportunities and problems. BYTE ordinarily isn't for the newcomer to technology, but these articles are less about computing than they are about thinking and organizing.
Since hypertext works by association, the person using the database is the source of where next to look, not unlike wandering through an underground cavern. If you forget how you got to where you find yourself, you may not be able to finish your journey.
Another problem is that since the relations and links in the database are set by individual humans, what is a valid association for one might not necessarily be valid for another. In the United States, it would be understandable to jump from "red, white and blue" to the U.S. flag, but that jump wouldn't make much sense to someone in Australia.
Still, for a technology just beginning to blossom, hypertext is worth trying to understand, if not for a way to keep your recipes or stamp collection organized, at least for a fascinating springboard to how we all think we think.