“I don’t know what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Doug’s ideas.”

-Alan Kay

On December 9, 1968, Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart and his research team unveiled the most robustly featured networked computer system in history—a system they designed to solve the complex and urgent problems facing humanity. An amazed crowd at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco watched in disbelief. Engelbart and his team demonstrated a new way to work: interactive collaborative personal computing. The “demo” laid the foundation for many of the computer innovations of the 20th century.

Engelbart sat in the front of the packed hall, while his larger-than-life image was projected on a giant screen. He addressed the live crowd and remotely addressed the team at the Augmentation Research Center some 30 miles away in Menlo Park. As the lights dimmed, Engelbart began his presentation. “What if, in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive? How much value could you derive from that?”

Engelbart and collaborated with team members at the lab in Menlo Park, each participant added and changed text, manipulated graphics, and even providing live audio and video in multiple windows that they expanded, closed and opened with ease. Engelbart created a text document, drawing lines, shapes, and moving text from print view to outline views, as well as cutting, pasting and transposing text. He and his team collaboratively created a map, and edited the text and graphics, using the mouse in combination with the keyset.

All the while, they were chatting live, via video conferencing, with multiple colleagues back at the ARC lab.9 They showed elements of virtually every tool we use today. They may not have had these names at the time, but this is what they became:

• The computer mouse

• Visual display of text and graphics

• Multiple windows

• The concept of online publishing in pre-World- Wide-Web-like journals as well as blog and wiki-style collaboration

• Searching and finding information

• An integrated and flexible messaging system

• Video conferencing

• User help system

• Online glossary

• Hyperlinking

• The ability to create customized views

• Linking of multiple files

• Collaborative annotation of documents

• Shared-screen teleconferencing

• Formatting of text

In addition, Engelbart integrated the mouse with the chording keyset and QWERTY keyboard.

In the most ambitious technical demo in history, Engelbart and his team laid the foundation for personal computing. The audience of an estimated 1000 people stood up and applauded and some rushed to the stage in excitement. Engelbart couldn’t believe they pulled off this feat without a glitch. After the demo, the team anticipated a flood of questions and offers to participate. Instead, what Engelbart remembers was that a young professor accused the team of perpetuating a hoax. He recalls how his team invited the professor to the ARC lab and spent two days demonstrating to him that it was all live, all real – just unbelievable.

Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) describes his reactions to the video of the 1968 demo, “… when I saw that [demo] the first time, I was amazed. … Doug’s stuff is unbelievable. You have best to see the video of him demonstrating it.”

Paul Spinrad wrote in UC Berkeley School of Engineering’s Forefront Magazine about Engelbart, “He named his group the Augmentation Research Center (ARC), referring to the use of technology to augment human intelligence, or ‘raise the collective IQ’… Engelbart was describing something that did not exist, which is what delusional people do.10 But fortunately, J.C.R. Licklider at the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency shared enough of his vision to fund the formation of the ARC and start implementing Engelbart’s ideas. Five years later, the innovations developed by the 12-person group were ready for prime time. And the rest is history.”

_______________________________________________________________________9  Bill English explains, “Images of the screen and other video images weretransmitted by a one-way video link from SRI. Keystrokes and mouse movements were transmitted by a one-way data link to SRI… Multiple windows were created on the video console at the rear of the room and were not part of the system. There was no two-way video to SRI. All communication was by a telephone link.”

_______________________________________________________________________10 Bill English noted, “Engelbart’s original name for the group was “The Augmented Human Intellect Research Center” (AHIRC.) It was changed to Augmentation Research Center (ARC) in early 1970.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: