Doug Engelbart | 85th Birthday Jan 30, 2010

January 30, 2010 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

"DOUG Engelbart sat under a twenty-two-foot-high video screen, "dealing lightning with both hands." At least that's the way it seemed to Chuck Thacker, a young Xerox PARC computer designer who was later shown a video of the demonstration that changed the course of the computer world." from What the Dormouse Said, John Markoff

Doug Engelbart has been recognized as a great figure in the history of technology with awards including the National Medal of Technology presented by President Bill Clinton for: "... creating the foundations of personal computing including continuous real-time interaction based on cathode-ray tube displays and the mouse, hypertext linking, text editing, on-line journals, shared-screen teleconferencing, and remote collaborative work."'

Doug is also noble figure. Motives that drive Doug's research have a moral purpose, reflecting the skills and attitude of a great engineer and humanitarian: If the world is faced with complex, intractable problems that challenge the ability of individuals and nations to solve, what can I do to help people fix what's broken?

Doug's research focuses on how computers can aid people's ability to think and work as groups as well as individuals - what Doug refers to as Augmentation rather than Automation. This involves understanding how problem solving groups actually behave - and how introducing new technology changes behavior and vice versa. This led me to nominate Doug along with Peter Drucker as a patron saint of Enterprise 2.0; the phrase is flip but the thought is serious. Please send 85th Birthday greetings to Doug today.

I'll let Doug speak for himself in the opening paragraphs of what he calls the bible of his research agenda, AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT: A Conceptual Framework from Oct 1962:

By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives, social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers--whether the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human "feel for a situation" usefully co-exist with powerful concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.1a1

Man's population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate, but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of that activity. Augmenting man's intellect, in the sense defined above, would warrant full pursuit by an enlightened society if there could be shown a reasonable approach and some plausible benefits.1a2

This report covers the first phase of a program aimed at developing means to augment the human intellect. These "means" can include many things--all of which appear to be but extensions of means developed and used in the past to help man apply his native sensory, mental, and motor capabilities--and we consider the whole system of a human and his augmentation means as a proper field of search for practical possibilities. It is a very important system to our society, and like most systems its performance can best be improved by considering the whole as a set of interacting components rather than by considering the components in isolation. - AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT: A Conceptual Framework, Douglas Engelbart October 1962

And notes from a conversation with Alan Kay - one of the two thousand people who attended Doug's Dec 1968 Demo, and went on to shape the world of technology as we know it.

Alan Kay At PARC one of the goals was to do NLS as a distributed system and all of the ALTOs had the five-finger keyboards as well as the mouse on them. We basically loved NLS and we'd done a few modifications which we thought even sped up. NLS part of the interaction scheme on it was, I believe, because the analog mouse there was some drift in it, so one of the things that they did was to say what kind of a thing you were pointing at, so you'd say move character or move word or move paragraph and so forth. It was kind of a procedure where you gave the command first and then bug bug and then command accept. We realized at Xerox PARC that you wanted to have a speedy scheme for interacting and we thought we could go even one better by selecting the objects, so you'd select something you'd do something to, give the command and then, in the case of move character you'd go select, move, select and it would it with fewer keystrokes.

Now, the abortion that happened after PARC was the misunderstanding of the user interface that we did for children, which was the overlapping window interface which we made as naive as absolutely we possibly could to the point of not having any work flow ideas in it and that was taken over uncritically out into the outside world. So we have many systems, like Lotus Notes and many mail systems that when you say replay it comes up with a window over the very thing you were reading as though there weren't any connection between these things. So this is an abortion to me, but its basically part of the whole feel. Whereas our notion was that you start the kids off on this fairly simple, naive thing and then there would be an actual progression where you would get up to this several commands a second kind of thing that you could do with NLS. If you have ever seen anybody use NLS it is really marvelous cause you're kindof flying along through the stuff several commands a second and there's a complete different sense of what it means to interact than you have today. I characterize what we have today as a wonderful bike with training wheels on that nobody knows they are on so nobody is trying to take them off. I just feel like we're way way behind where we could have been if it weren't for the way commercialization turned out.

Doug Engelbart Well, strangely enough, I feel the same. It's part of the thing of the easy to learn and natural to use thing that became sort of a god to follow and the marketplace is driving it and its successful and you could market on that basis, but some of the diagrams pictures that I didn't quite get to the other day was how do you ever migrate from a tricycle to a bicycle because a bicycle is very unnatural and very hard to learn compared to a tricycle, and yet in society it has superseded all the tricycles for people over five years old. So the whole idea of high-performance knowledge work is yet to come up and be in the domain. Its still the orientation of automating what you used to do instead of moving to a whole new domain in which you are going to obviously going to learn quite a few new skills. And so you make analogies of suppose you wanted to move up to the ski slopes and be mobile on skis. Well, just visiting them for an afternoon is not going to do it. So, I'd love to have photographs of skateboards and skis and windsurfing and all of that to show you what people can really if they have a new way supplied by technology to be mobile in a different environment. None of that could be done if people insisted that it was an easy-to-learn thing.

So, moving your way around those thought vectors in concept space - I'd forgotten about that

Alan Kay You said that, right?

Doug Engelbart I must have, its so good. [laughter] Its to externalize your thoughts in the concept structures that are meaningful outside and moving around flexibly and manipulating them and viewing them. Its a new way to operate on a new kind of externalized medium. So, to keep doing it in a model of the old media is just a hangup that someplace we're going to break that perspective and shift and then the idea of high performance and the idea of high performance teams who've learned to coordinate, to get that ball down the field together in all kinds of operations. I feel like the real breakthrough for us getting someplace is going to be when we say 'All right, lets put together high-performance, knowledge-work teams and lets pick the roles they're going to play within our organizations in some way in such even though they operate very differently from their peers out in the rest of the organization they can interact with them and support them very effectively. So there are roles like that that would be very effective and everyone else can sortof see because they're interacting with these guys what they can do. And suppose it does take 200 hours of specialized training - that's less than boot camp.

One of those boxes on that paradigm map about deployment was really coming down and showing you that special purpose teams are one kind of thing in the way that they can propagate and very different from moving a group of people who have an existing set of staff and processes and methods and skills and equipment and trying to move them all together. It's practically an impossible task to do that in any significantly large step without having casualties. They just aren't all equipped to mobile in that space. So, there's a lot to go with that and it all stems from looking at today and saying 'why do we accept that?' That's the modern thing, its almost a religion. In any other company I'd be afraid to bring that out. Maybe I'll have to run from you too... from Notes from the Panels The Brown / MIT Vannevar Bush Symposium, October 1995

Update Remembering Doug Engelbart, 30 January 1925 - 2 July 2013

Resources

DougEngelbart.org: The Doug Engelbart Institute was was conceived by Doug Engelbart to further his lifelong career goal of boosting our ability to better address complex, urgent problems. It contains an excellent history, archive of papers, photos and other published resources as well as links to Doug's current projects.

Douglas Engelbart Interviewed by John Markoff of the New York Times Outracing the Fire: 50 Years and Counting of Technology and Change Computer History Museum oral history interview, March 26, 2002.

Doug Engelbart Video Archive: 1968 Demo - FJCC Conference Presentation Reel Dec 9, 1968 Internet Archive, the so called Mother of All Demos. See also From Pranksters to PCs chapter about Engelbart's 1968 FJCC demo from John Markoff's book What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, authorized excerpt.

Video Archive MIT / Brown Vannevar Bush Symposium: A Celebration of Vannevar Bush's 1945 Vision, An Examination of What Has Been Accomplished, and What Remains to Be Done. Oct 12-13 1995, MIT. Talks and panel discussion with Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, Andy van Dam, Tim Berners-Lee, Alan Kay and others. See also ACM Interactions summary (free access), transcript of day 1 and day 2 panels.

Doug Engelbart's copy of Vannevar Bush's 1945 As We May Think, with Doug's 1962 notes scribbled in the margins.

Tuesday Dec 9, 2008 | Forty years after the Mother of All Demos Engelbart's demonstration of the Augment shared screen hypertext and video system developed by a team at SRI under Doug's leadership. Links to videos, interviews and other resources

AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT: A Conceptual Framework By Douglas C. Engelbart October 1962 (SRI AUGMENT, 3906)

And yes, Doug also invented the mouse, and used it in his 1968 demo. But introducing Doug as the inventor of the mouse is like introducing Leonardo da Vinci as a guy who knew how to make good paint brushes.

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