Chapter from “The Engelbart Hypothesis“
The capability of a society is determined by the complexity of its infrastructure. All societies have an infrastructure that is made up of tools. Some of the tools are culture based: language, tradition, protocols, organizations, educational institutions, economic structures, etc. Each society also has physical artifacts, utensils, buildings, transportation systems, weapons, communication systems, etc. Complex activities require larger and more complex underlying infrastructure.
It is, in fact, the infrastructure that defines what that society is capable of. Each of us is born with a unique set of perceptual motor and mental abilities (vision, hearing, verbal, smell, touch, taste, motion, sensing). We build upon those through our learning new skills and knowledge. We become socialized through culture: language, methods of doing things, customs, organizational behavior, and belief systems. In addition, we learn to use tools and have developed communication systems. The capability infrastructure is the way all of those innate abilities, acquired skills, cultural assumptions, and tools work together.
Change in one tool or custom can have unintended consequences in other tools, customs or, indeed, effect the entire structure. In order to create powerful tools to augment human thinking, we have to change many aspects of the
infrastructure, and examine how the tools will be used. The potential for change with the introduction of augmentation technology can create fundamental shifts in the world. While we continue to spend millions of dollars researching newer, faster tools, little research is being done on the most strategic investments that will provide the highest payoffs for augmenting human thinking.
During the 1960s and early 1970s, ample funding by the U.S. Department of Defense promoted research for networked computing. The result was the creation of the infrastructure for the Internet. The investment in the Internet infrastructure made substantial global changes in our collective capabilities.