Douglas C. Engelbart
The unfinished revolution
Douglas Engelbart is one of the big visionaries of our time. The value of his work is undeniable. In 1960 he had proposed the use of computers for online conferences and communications. In 1950, right after the Second World War, Engelbart began to work at NACA Ames Lab, a forerunner of NASA, where he developed ideas for a world that he saw as increasingly complex. He already imagined "people before displays, navigating in an informational space where one could formulate and organize ideas with great speed and flexibility." His idea of facilitating the access to a complex world has always included professional, managerial, and also social problems, that actually were questions as how to understand a world more and more populous and diverse.
In 1963 Engelbart founded his own research laboratory. He called it Augmentation Research Center (ARC). In his laboratory, he developed the NLS -- oNLineSystem --, which helped in the creation of digital libraries and the storage and access to documents using the concept developed by his colleague Ted Nelson (a guest of FILE Symposium 2005). NLS used an interaction facilitating device developed by him called mouse (which was only adopted commercially in Apple computers).
NLS also created at that time new graphic interfaces, word processors and other innovative possibilities, such as ones that allowed users to send electronic mail to each other, and teleconference. The fact that all those technologies are familiar today and considered elementary by almost any computer user only reinforces the importance of those discoveries in the 1960's.
The first great presentation of the project, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in 1968 was already historical: instead of climbing to the stage and speaking to the audience, he controlled the presentation through a console designed by him and generated by a NLS computer
in Menlo Park, 50 kilometers away, presenting live demos, broadcasting researchers' testimonies in audio and video teleconference from his laboratory, and alternating with his personal presentation. Some people at that time thought it was a trick, and that presentation is known today as "The Mother of all Demos". The NLS project was developed with financing from ARPA, and when ARPANET was created (the network that originated the World Wide Web), Engelbart's ARC laboratory was its second node.
However, one cannot mistake Engelbart's work for simple developments of technological tools. Engelbart's research was always involved more directly with the expansion of human intelligence by means of technology, which today one might call augmented or expanded intelligence. As he mentions in his text Working Together, the aim of his research relates to "augmentation", and not automation. His discoveries were the consequence of a research that intended to create a collaborative work environment, where the whole hardware and software structure should be designed in order to mediate the development of a collective intelligence and creation. Even with the global recognition of his work, Engelbart understands that there is still a lot to evolve, since many of the systems that were popularized with the PC, like WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get), made personal computers thoroughly usable by the general public, in one hand, but in the other they follow the logic of the printed document, and don't explore the hypertext proposition, that sought a non-lineal structure of access and use, already proposed by him and his colleagues in the NLS system.
Today, the revolution started by Engelbart follows ahead, and the first edition of FILE PRIX LUX wants to honor him for the body of his work.
D. Engelbart and mouse.
NIC archives (1971) - The host mainframe at ARC was the second such unit linked into the ARPANet, which was the precursor of the Internet. Engelbart's lab had been assigned by ARPA to run the Network Information Center (NIC), which has since grown into the InterNIC. This photo shows the NIC archives vault with its library of NIC publications and backup tapes (magnetic 7- or 9-track tapes).
First videoteleconferencing at FJCC 1968. - A screen shot of hypermedia with simultaneous on-screen video teleconferencing shows ARC's Bill Paxton piped in from the SRI lab in Menlo Park.