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Published on Dec 15, 2013
As a young Doug Engelbart could only imagine sixty years ago, much of the world's population does the bulk of its reading, writing, and research tasks online. We sit at interactive screens, just as he foresaw, and click on the hypertext links he developed, with the mouse he invented. We chat and send emails, as his Augmentation Research Center staff did in the 1960s. We meet in videoconferences, the technology they showed the world at a famous 1968 public demo. We do all of this over computer networks including the Internet, both partly developed within his laboratory at SRI.
But when it comes to the kind of knowledge navigation and collaboration tools that were the heart of Engelbart's oNLine System (NLS), we've climbed only the first rung of the ladder. And when it comes to the ambitious goal that drove him to build all his technology -- to augment human intelligence so that we might better address the world's big problems -- we've barely even stepped off the ground. What can we learn today from this great inventor, whose idea of iterative "bootstrapping" anticipated the promises of the Singularity but with a human face -- no machine intelligence required?
The Computer History Museum recently hosted a evening celebrating his achievements, and of challenging some of today's pivotal leaders to think about how his unfinished revolution may be useful going forward. December 9, 2013 was the 45th Anniversary of the "Mother of All Demos."Douglas Engelbart died on July 2 this year. Some of the main records of his laboratory at SRI are in the Museum's collection, and form a crucial part of the CHM Internet History Program. The Douglas Engelbart Memorial Fund helps support preservation and access for these materials.