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A full three decades before a 35-year-old British computer scientist named Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web, forever changing the way humans share and consume information (translation: cat photos), a young, visionary designer in Chicago created a device that he called, simply and evocatively, a “knowledge box.”
As LIFE magazine described the contraption to its readers in a September 1962 issue—in language similar to that used by both digital-age proselytizers and tech skeptics today—the knowledge box appeared to be an invention that would either help our willfully self-destructive species gain knowledge faster and more easily than ever before, perhaps allowing us to at least delay our extinction . . . or it might just hasten our inevitable demise.
You know, either way. Whatever.
The knowledge box was dismantled and went into storage not long after the article in LIFE came out. But Isaacs’ 12-foot, wood-framed cube—with its multiple slide projectors fire-hosing visual data at the occupant(s)—was reconstructed and put on display a few years back, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Sullivan Galleries. By all accounts, the “weird cellular contrivance” was as trippy and as impressive five decades later as it was when Isaacs first introduced it to an unprepared world in 1962.