Douglas Engelbart: inventor of the mouse and the net
Douglas Carl Engelbart (January 30, 1925 – July 2, 2013) was an American inventor, and an early computer and Internet pioneer. He is best known for his work on the challenges of human/computer interaction, particularly while at his Augmentation Research Center Lab in SRI International, resulting in the invention of the computer mouse, and the development of hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to graphical user interfaces.
NYT has a magisterial obituary:
It was his great insight that progress in science and engineering could be greatly accelerated if researchers, working in small groups, shared computing power. He called the approach “bootstrapping” and believed it would raise what he called their “collective I.Q.”
For the [December 1968] event, he sat on stage in front of a mouse, a keyboard and other controls and projected the computer display onto a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour, he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer. He demonstrated text editing, video conferencing, hypertext and windowing.
The idea for the mouse — a pointing device that would roll on a desk — occurred to Dr. Engelbart in 1964 while he was attending a computer graphics conference. He was musing about how to move a cursor on a computer display.
When he returned to work, he gave a copy of a sketch to William English, a collaborator and mechanical engineer at SRI, who, with the aid of a draftsman, fashioned a pine case to hold the mechanical contents.
Early versions of the mouse had three buttons, because that was all the case could accommodate, even though Dr. Engelbart felt that as many as 10 buttons would be more useful.
The importance of Dr. Engelbart’s networking ideas was underscored in 1969, when his Augment NLS system became the application for which the forerunner of today’s Internet was created. The system was called the ARPAnet computer network, and SRI became the home of its operation center and one of its first two nodes, or connection points. (The other node was at the University of California, Los Angeles. Two others followed, at the University of Utah and the University of California, Santa Barbara.).
The group disbanded in the 1970s, and SRI sold the NLS system in 1977 to a company called Tymshare. Dr. Engelbart worked there in relative obscurity for more than a decade until his contributions became more widely recognized by the computer industry. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-M.I.T. Prize and the Turing Award.
According to an email from his daughter, posted to a mailing list dedicated to classic computers, Engelbart died “peacefully” in his sleep at his home in Atherton, California.
t the time, the demo wasn’t exactly recognized as a work of genius. During an event in 2008 celebrating the 40th anniversary of The Mother Of All Demos, Bill Paxton — an SRI researcher who was also part of the demo — said that 90 per cent of the computer science community looked at Engelbart as “a crackpot.”
“It’s hard to believe now, but at the time, even we had trouble understanding what he was doing,” he said, referring to Engelbart’s fellow researchers. “Think of everyone else out there.”
Even his boss failed to grasp the importance of his work. At that same anniversary celebration, Bob Taylor — the NASA program manager who oversaw at least some of SRI’s funding — remembered that Engelbart’s immediate boss flew cross-country just before the demo to ask him a single question. “He came into my office and he said: ‘I want to talk to you about Doug. Why are you funding this guy?” remembered Taylor, who also played a key role in the creation of the ARPAnet (the forerunner of the internet) and Xerox PARC.
The collective IQ of the world allows us to find more about Engelbart everywhere on the net.