Monday, December 8, 2008

Wild Dr. Engelbart Caught on Tape



Today, I had the great fortune of attending the 40th anniversary of the Mother of all Demos. It's a slightly meta/hazy event to describe, but here goes: Tomorrow, December 9, marks the 40th anniversary of a demonstration of ground breaking work staged on unheard-of equipment designed to expand human intelligence.
In Valley-speak, it was the Mother of all Demos. A bunch of uber-geeks who'd spent the 1960's working on these new-fangled doohickies called computers showed off what they'd been dreaming up in their magical workshop. They showed a crowd of experienced computer nerds inventions they'd never seen before. Inventions like the mouse. And an oscilloscope-cum-wordenator we'd now call a monitor. And, oh, yeah--video conferencing. Not to mention the 1000's of software innovations.
It's not even an event that took place in a single location. The team at the Stanford Research Institute was every-bit as involved in the demonstration as the face-men. Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart and Bill English were in San Francisco, on stage showing all this cool gear off, but behind the scenes, 30 miles south, there were racks of equipment and more brainy computer men. It's as if Edison had been working in his labs, creating his many inventions, then brought all of them to bear in a multi-city coordinated stage show.
This demonstration took place on December 9, 1968 in California. Today and tomorrow, the Program for the Future is taking place. And therein, I spied a wild Dr. Engelbart. Amidst the crowds of adoring fans, he humbly walked, with a smile that lit up the world. We have proof of the existence of this giant. This God among men. This mythical forbearer from whence all modern computer paradigms derived

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart is the true creator of all you see and do on a computer. Over the years, his small research group at Stanford constantly changed sizes and people, but always he was there, pushing his vision of computer-augmented work for humanity.
Dr. Thomas Malone, founding director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence, put it best, this morning. He said:

When Doug talked about collective intelligence, he didn't just talk about companies being smarter, he talked about the whole world being smarter. When you think about our increasingly interconnected world, it's becoming clear that it's possible, and I believe increasingly useful to reguard our whole species as a kind of global brain. Which we can hopefully make to be a more intelligent global brain.
Now that's the kind of computer science research I can get behind. Hats off to all of the ARC alums, and especially to Douglas Engelbart, a man who has likely contributed more to the collective evolution of our species than any other human in history. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

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