Technology

Remembering Doug Engelbart, with two talks about his visionary work

Posted by: Tedstaff

Computer visionary Doug Engelbart died on Tuesday evening, at age 88. One of the pioneers of the Internet and graphic user interfaces, Engelbart is perhaps best known for inventing the computer mouse. Above, watch him lead what’s been described as the “mother of all demos” in 1968, when he showed off that first mouse and demonstrated how to “jump to a link” using it.

Engelbart was one of those people who imagined the possibility of the Internet as a place where people could work together and push humanity forward. He was ahead of his time not only in what he invented, but in how he thought about the process of creation. Digital collaboration, crowdsourcing, group innovation — these are concepts Engelbart championed 60 years ago that are still relevant (yet, importantly, not a matter of course) today.

Engelbart’s visionary thinking has influenced every computer scientist, but his work has been specifically referenced in two TED Talks. Ian Ritchie described Engelbart in this way: “He was a US Air Force Officer …  reading [the Vannevar Bush-penned Atlantic Monthly article “As We May Think”] in a library in the Far East. And he was so inspired by this article, it kind of directed the rest of his life. …  He built a system designed to augment human intelligence … and in a premonition of today’s world of cloud computing and software as a service, his system was called NLS, for oN-Line System.”

Added Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Hirshberg in his 2007 talk, “In the midst of revolution in the streets and rock and roll concerts in the parks, a group of researchers led by people like John McCarthy and Doug Engelbart changed the world … They saw these tools that were controlled by the establishment as ones that could actually be liberated … Most importantly, they had this ethos of sharing information.”

To see for yourself just how incredibly ahead of his time Engelbart was, read the 1962 treatise in which he laid out his thinking around “Augmenting Human Intellect.” It’s an extraordinary document; he will be missed.