Sunday 22 April 2018

Augmenting human intellect

Thanks to Edelman’s Phil Gomes as the source of this blog post about an important technology anniversary that occurred yesterday.  His great blog can be found at

On December 9, 1968, Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (a quiet-yet-passionate former Army radar operator) and his staff at the Stanford Research Institute gave what came to be known as “The Mother of All Demos” at San Francisco’s Joint Computer Conference. This was a gathering of researchers and academics in the then-nascent computer science field.

Check out this 39-second video and consider how visionary (or downright crazy) this statement must have sounded at the time:

"If in your office you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly…responsive to every action you have, how much value could you derive from that?"

Said by one observer to be “dealing lightning with his hands”, Dr. Engelbart and his team demonstrated the following technologies, much of which we pretty much take for granted today:

·         The computer mouse

·         “Windowed” computer interface

·         Networked, collaborative document editing

·         Groupware

·         Hyperlinks

·         Teleconferencing

Worth repeating… This was 1968.

This was the moment when computers became more than tools for arithmetic—they became tools for communication and collaboration. The demo also gave substance to the heretical vision that computers would soon be on everyone’s desk rather than in a large room and managed by a handful of experts.

Most importantly, this demo fundamentally changed the government’s research focus—away from artificial intelligence (e.g. “replacing” humans) and towards augmented intelligence (e.g., helping humans do what they do better).

To probe further:

·         Gizmag’s recognition of the significance in computing.

·         Motherboard’s post

·         The Engelbart Hypothesis, an ebook and probably the best collection of interviews available

·         Video of Engelbart’s entire demo, broken up into nine YouTube videos

·         “As We May Think” by Dr. Vannevar Bush, the 1945 Atlantic article that inspired Engelbart. Bush was the head of the government’s Office of Scientific Research, which was the precursor to Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency (DARPA), the primary driver of what became the Internet.

·         The 30th Anniversary of The Demo

·         The 40th Anniversary of The Demo