Inventing the Mouse April 12, 2013Posted by Christina Engelbart in Doug Engelbart Archives, Historic.
Tags: computer mouse, Doug Engelbart, historic firsts, tribute
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Watch Doug tell the story (2004)
[courtesy Logitech, Inc.]
The first mouse –
click to see photo gallery
[courtesy SRI International and Stanford University MouseSite]
Doug Engelbart invented the computer mouse in 1963 in his research lab at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International), for which the patent was issued in 1970. Although many impressive innovations for interacting with computers have followed in the last 50 years since its invention, the mouse remains to this day the most efficient hands on pointing device available.
The basic idea for the mouse first came to him in 1961 while sitting in a conference session on computer graphics, his mind mulling over the challenge of making interactive computing more efficient. It occurred to him that, using a pair of small wheels traversing a tabletop, one wheel turning horizontally, one turning vertically, the computer could track their combined rotations and move the cursor on the display accordingly. The wheels could function something like the wheels on a planimeter – a tool used by engineers and geographers to measure areas on a map, blueprint, drawing, etc. – but in this case, rolling the wheels around on the tabletop would plot the x,y coordinates for a cursor on a computer screen. He recorded the idea in his notebook for future reference.
A little over a year later, Engelbart was awarded a long-awaited grant at SRI to launch his dream research initiative titled “Augmenting Human Intellect,” for which he envisioned intellectual workers sitting at high-performance interactive display workstations to access a vast online information space in which to collaborate on important challenges. He hired a small research team, and began setting up a basic lab with computer and teletypes, followed by a display terminal.
By now there were several off-the-shelf solutions for moving the cursor and selecting something on a display screen, but no good data about which would be most efficient to meet Engelbart’s “high-performance” requirement. He applied for and was awarded a small grant from NASA to explore that question.
Engelbart and his research staff rounded up best of breed pointing devices, and also rigged up some in-house prototypes to experiment with, such as a foot pedal and a knee-operated device. Engelbart also dug up his earlier notes which he reviewed with his lead engineer Bill English, who built a prototype of the hand-held device with perpendicular wheels mounted in a carved out wooden block, with a button on top, to test with the others. This was the first mouse (pictured above and below).
In 1965 Engelbart’s team published their final report evaluating the efficiency of the various screen-selection techniques. They had pitted the mouse against a handful of other devices, some off the shelf, some of their own making (see Mouse Alternatives below). The mouse won hands down, and was thus included as standard equipment in their research moving forward (see Screen-Selection Experiments below for links to key reports and papers detailing these experiments). In 1967, SRI filed for the patent on the mouse, technically termed the “x,y position indicator,” and the patent was awarded in 1970.
The first mouse plugged into it’s display workstation
- circa 1964 (click to enlarge)
1968 version includes three-button mouse and five-key keyset(click to enlarge)
Enter, the Keyset: In the meantime, to further increase efficiency, Engelbart’s team thought to offer a companion to the mouse – a device for the left hand to enter commands or text while the right hand was busy pointing and clicking (shown above). After trying out several variations, they settled on a telegraph-style “keyset” with five keys akin to piano keys, which also became standard equipment in the lab (pictured below). Both devices were introduced to the public in Engelbart’s 1968 demonstration, now known as the “Mother of All Demos” (see Check It Out below for links to selected video footage of the debut, historic photos, and more).
“The mouse we built for the  show was an early prototype that had three buttons. We turned it around so the tail came out the top. We started with it going the other direction, but the cord got tangled when you moved your arm. I first started making notes for the mouse in ’61. At the time, the popular device for pointing on the screen was a light pen, which had come out of the radar program during the war. It was the standard way to navigate, but I didn’t think it was quite right.
Two or three years later, we tested all the pointing gadgets available to see which was the best. Aside from the light pen there was the tracking ball and a slider on a pivot. I also wanted to try this mouse idea, so Bill English went off and built it.
We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before. It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes. Five or six of us were involved in these tests, but no one can remember who started calling it a mouse. I’m surprised the name stuck.
We also did a lot of experiments to see how many buttons the mouse should have. We tried as many as five. We settled on three. That’s all we could fit. Now the three-button mouse has become standard, except for the Mac.”
– Source: The Click Heard Round The World, by Ken Jordan, WIRED 2004.
|Watch the world debut of the mouse (1968)|
Witness the 1968 debut of the mouse and keyset, and watch the mouse and keyset in action in Doug’s 1968 “Mother of All Demos (see SRI’s 1968 Demo Highlights for more); take a minute to explore the Stanford University MouseSite where you will find images of the first mouse, the US Patent on the Mouse, historic photos from the lab, and much more.
|Visit the online Mouse Exhibit|
The mouse later migrated from Doug’s lab at SRI to Xerox PARC, and then to Apple and others. One of the most common myths about the mouse is the mistaken belief that it was invented at Xerox PARC. Note that the patent for the mouse was filed in 1967, by which time production models were in operational use throughout Doug’s lab, three years before Xerox PARC was established in 1970.
Engelbart and his team tested a half dozen pointing devices for speed and accuracy. These included the mouse plus a knee apparatus (pictured here on the left), both created in-house, along with several off the shelf devices such as DEC’s Grafacon (pictured here on the right, modified for testing purposes), a joy stick, and light pen. See Screen-Selection Experiments below for links to more details and photos. They also experimented with a foot pedal device as well as a helmet mounted device, neither of which made made it into the final tests.
|From Doug Engelbart’s
experiments with pointing devices (mid 1960s)
A knee-operated pointing device
DEC’s hand-operated gyro-stlye “Grafacon”
In the 1950s, Doug Engelbart set his sights on a lofty goal — to develop dramatically better ways to support intellectual workers around the globe in the daunting task of finding solutions to larger and larger problems with greater speed and effectiveness than ever before imagined. His goal was to revolutionize the way we work together on such tasks. He saw computers, at the time used only for number crunching, as a new medium for advancing the state of the art in collaborative knowledge work. Building on technology available at the time, his research agenda required that his team push the envelope on all fronts: they had to expand the boundaries of display technology and interactive computing and human-computer interface, help launch network computing, and invent hypermedia, groupware, knowledge management, digital libraries, computer supported software engineering, client-server architecture, the mouse, etc. on the technical front, as well as pushing the frontiers in process reengineering and continuous improvement, including inventing entirely new organizational concepts and methodologies on the human front. Engelbart even invented his own innovation strategy for accelerating the rate and scale of innovation in his lab which, by the way, proved very effective. His seminal work garnered many awards, and sparked a revolution that blossomed into the Information Age and the Internet. But as yet we have only scratched the surface of the true potential Engelbart envisioned for dramatically boosting our collective IQ in the service of humankind’s greatest challenges.
- MouseSite – the definitive website on the Mouse hosted by Stanford University, especially their Photos of the First Mouse page. They also curate video of the 1968 demo and other significant archives from Doug Engelbart’s work.
- See the SRI Timeline on Innovation page Personal Computing + the Mouse, the SRI press release Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing (excellent overview), as well as our event resources page for Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing
- Visit the online exhibit on The Mouse at the Computer History Museum or visit their museum in Mt. View, CA; check out their Early Computer Mouse Encounters event at the Computer History Museum, Oct 17, 2001
- See the Mouse Timeline in The computer mouse turns 40 – a great article by Benj Edwards, Macworld, Dec 9, 2008
on the history of the Mouse.
- Visit Logitech’s Billionth Mouse site – see the genesis of the mouse.
- Planimeter: Planimeters are often used by surveyors, foresters, geologists, geographers, engineers, and architects to measure areas on maps of any kind and scale, as well as plans, blueprints, or any scale drawing or plan. (source: Ben Meadows). See How Planimeters Are Used for some great visuals (thanks to Dr. Robert Foote at Wabash College), and this photo of geographers using planimeter for the 1940 census (thanks to the National Archives). See also Wikipedia’s more complete Planimeter article with links to other resources.
- Screen-Selection Experiments: Display-Selection Techniques for Text Manipulation, William K. English, Douglas C. Engelbart and Melvyn L. Berman, March 1967. This paper describes an experimental study into the relative merits of different CRT display-selection devices as used within a real-time, computer-display, text-manipulation system in use at Stanford Research Institute. The mouse was tested against other devices and found to be the most accurate and efficient. See also the 1965 Report and the 1966 Quarterly Report detailing their screen-selection experiments.
- “The Mother of All Demos” (90 min Video/Film) Doug’s 1968 debut of the NLS system for online work including hypermedia, the mouse, online collaboration, interactive computing, human computer interface, and overarching guiding principles for the research. See especially Clip 12 where Doug, sitting in San Francisco, brings in a coworker sitting in his lab in Menlo Park, to demonstrate the mouse, and Clip 13 where Doug introduces the keyset. See also our comprehensive portal page to the 1968 Demo for the basic story and links to demo highlights, archive photos and footage, background, articles, and more.
- Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, Douglas C. Engelbart. 1962. See for example how he envisioned an architect might work interactively with a computer in 1962 in the Introduction’s summary of Section IV (quoted at right).
- Doug Engelbart – A Lifetime Pursuit, a short biographical sketch by Christina Engelbart describes the larger context of this early work.
A day in the life of a personal archivist March 17, 2011Posted by Christina Engelbart in Doug Engelbart Archives, Historic, Human Interest.
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I wear many hats at the Doug Engelbart Institute, one of which is head archivist for the Doug Engelbart Archive Collection. In the spring of 2010 it came time to upload archive videos of Doug Engelbart’s demos, lectures, tributes, interviews, etc. dating 1968-2008. I worked with the good folks at the Internet Archive to upload over 100 videos that had been previously digitized, into a new Personal Archive collection on the Internet Archive called the Doug Engelbart Video Archives.
Doug had early on established a methodology for his library, in which each item received a unique ID number, and was cataloged in a master index. So we started this uploading project with what appeared to be a fairly comprehensive index, including ID number, title, name of conference or company, location, names of other people on the video, if any, name of person it was received from, producer, etc. — whatever information was on hand at the time it was cataloged. The first task was to make a pass over the index and spot check the videos to sort out some discrepancies. This turned out to be huge. Lucky for me I had worked alongside my father extensively over many years, and knew something about many of the events represented in these videos, was present at a number of them, had been the event organizer for others. Plus his/our long-time secretary, Mary Coppernoll, had kept meticulous files and was available to search through them.
Next, selecting what to upload onto the Internet Archive site, getting them uploaded with descriptive filenames (eternally grateful to Laura Milvy at Internet Archive!), and annotating the material with ID numbers, summary descriptions including any specific info we had in our files regarding the event, cross-referencing related videos in the collection, and researching the internet for related documents or webpages already posted by others, adding links to those. This turned out to be way huge.
Many people think of archiving in terms of saving, preserving and cataloging pieces into a collection and, where there is sufficient interest, arranging for part or all of it to be (broadly) available. In our case, as in many cases, what’s equally important once the preservation and indexing is secured, is establishing the context, and telling the story.
Without the context, the archives will likely be meaningless to most people, an esoteric treasure trove to a few. Telling the story is about establishing very rich, relational context and meaning. It’s what brings the stuff to life.
Context is Everything
So for example, I hold in my hand a video of a talk my father gave in 1986. At a conference. What conference? The Conference on the History of the Personal Workstation. I knew this because it was an important talk for him at the time, an opportunity as the so-called “Father of Personal Computing” to pull together historic photos and video footage, and create a detailed timeline of his work. In his talk he told the story through pictures, unfolding how and why he invented what he did. The conference itself was seminal, and was later rendered into an important book of the same title. So, can we locate the conference program, event announcements, abstract of his talk, copies of the slides he used? How much of this info is already on the web? Can we scan in what we have to upload and link to? We had previously posted the paper he submitted to the proceedings. Did the book make it online? Unfortunately not. Is it at least described somewhere? Can we scan in a copy of my father’s chapter at least, for which the editor worked with him for months to refine and streamline, and as such is superior to the version we have online? See Doug’s talk (with what context I could muster) The Augmented Knowledge Workshop (1986).
Establishing the relationships among records and documents, following the threads, can be quite engrossing and time consuming — literally boundless. In the course of this video project, I found considerable bits and pieces of contextual material on the web, scanned in some, and pieced together others. In some cases I also created supporting web pages on our site, pulling related materials together into a special sub-collection of sorts.
My work with the Internet Archive on the video project led to an invitation to speak at last month’s 2011 Personal Digital Archiving conference at the Archive in San Francisco. Here’s a link to my talk Learnings from a Life’s Work: The Doug Engelbart Archives, in which I covered highlights of my father’s life’s work, experiences archiving that work, and how it informs the future of tools and practices for capturing, integrating, developing, evolving and re-using our individual and collective repositories, in both our work lives and our family lives. This blog post expands on some of the themes I touched on at the conference.
Here is the story of one sub-collection from our archive which exemplifies a day in the life of a personal archivist — a day that stretched into six weeks of painstaking but truly heartwarming and rewarding detail work.
Among the videos selected for digitizing and uploading, I found a complete collection of 11 speaker/panel sessions from the 1995 MIT/Brown Vannevar Bush Symposium celebrating 50 years of Vannevar Bush’s seminal article “As We May Think” published in the Atlantic Monthly, July 1945. This Symposium looked to be a veritable “who’s who” of great pioneers of the information age, gathered to honor the man and his article which had in some way touched and inspired each of them. Researching the web for related event resources and source materials, I found event webpages at both MIT and Brown, which between them included a rich assortment of event resources all posted back in 1995 and still online (!!!). I also discovered there is as yet no Vannevar Bush website. I did find the article itself posted on the Atlantic Monthly and Life Magazine websites, but no additional archive material on the web related to the article. Neither MIT nor Brown were in a position to update their event webpage, so I created a Vannevar Bush Symposium homepage on our site, linking to the resources on their two sites, to the event videos we’d just uploaded, and the other few items I’d located.
One day in July 2010, I came to realize that I was archiving this amazing event on the 65th anniversary of the Atlantic Monthly article. That gave pause for reflection. During this sub-project I was becoming increasingly aware and appreciative that I was resurrecting a gathering of great pioneers of the information age who had in turn been inspired by a great visionary from a prior generation. These luminaries, who had each dedicated their entire careers to pursuing some aspect of what makes the internet such a powerful medium for sharing and advancing knowledge, were brought together at the dawning of the internet (1995) to pay tribute to their inspirer, and to share with each other and a few dozen lucky attendees what they thought was significant about what was happening and where it was headed, which I was now for the first time posting onto the very digital technology they spawned so that anyone in the world could henceforth witness this seminal event using that technology — hopefully inspiring next and future generations of pioneers, using current technology to spawn next generation technology, recursively bootstrapping the future. Literally sent chills up my spine.
When I finally got a chance to actually watch all of my father’s talk from the Symposium, I noted that he had neglected to say anything about how he first encountered the article, which is a great story in itself! I had heard him tell it many times in many contexts. I scoured his oral histories and other first-hand accounts to double-check the facts, wrote up a thumbnail sketch under a new section of the Symposium homepage titled Influence on Doug Engelbart, with links to some amazing resources that had surfaced:
- a 1962 letter he wrote to Bush — already online (courtesy Stanford Libraries Special Collections)
- his personal copy of Bush’s 1945 article with his hand-written notes in the margin — Jake Feinler had recently discovered and indexed in her archive collection of the Network Information Center, which the Computer History Museum were kind enough to scan in for me to post, to which I affixed a source citation (courtesy Computer History Museum and Atlantic Monthly).
I also located the Philippine island where he first encountered the article in 1945 on a GoogleMaps map, which I copied into Photoshop where I could add labels in large enough to be easily read after sizing down the map to fit on my webpage (endless fussing!).
As this sub-collection came to life for me, I was struck again and again by how honored I felt, how deeply touched — one of the great rewards of participating in the archive process. Somewhere in there I also got to chat with Andy van Dam and Paul Kahn who had organized the 1995 Symposium, provided all the historic context for the Symposium, and had coalesced the conference resources onto a very impressive conference website for its time (1995). I love these guys.
Other sub-collections I have developed over time are available at the new Stories section of our Archives portal page, including pioneering firsts from my father’s lab:
- the story of the Mouse
- interactive computing
- the 1968 demo
- the first ARPANET transmission and online community
- …and more…
My next task is to find better ways to tell the whole story.
Personal Digital Archiving Conference 2011 March 1, 2011Posted by Christina Engelbart in Collective IQ, Doug Engelbart Archives, Historic, Human Interest.
Last week the Internet Archive hosted the second annual conference on Personal Digital Archiving February 24-25, 2011:
From family photographs and personal papers to health and financial information, vital personal records are becoming digital. Creation and capture of new digital information has become a part of the daily routine for hundreds of millions of people. But what are the long-term prospects for this data? The combination of new capture devices (more than 1 billion camera phones will be sold in 2010) with the move from older forms of media is reshaping both our personal and collective memories. The size and complexity of personal collections growing, these collections are spread across different media (including film and paper!), and the lines between personal and professional, published and unpublished are being redrawn.
For individuals, institutions, investors, entrepreneurs, and funding agencies thinking about how best to address these issues, Personal Digital Archiving 2011 will include a variety of examples that may be replicated, and will clarify the technical, social, economic questions around personal archiving.
In my presentation, “Learnings from a Life’s Work: The Doug Engelbart Archives,” I touched on my father’s life’s work, experiences archiving that work, and how it informs the future of tools and practices for capturing, integrating, developing, evolving and re-using our individual and collective repositories, in both our work lives and our family lives.
For more on Doug Engelbart’s work and archives, as well as current initiatives of the Doug Engelbart Institute, see:
For more information on Personal Digital Archiving 2011 see:
40th Anniversary of the Patent on the Mouse November 18, 2010Posted by Christina Engelbart in Uncategorized.
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Here’s something to tip your hat to – today marks the 40th anniversary of Doug Engelbart receiving the U.S. patent for the mouse on Nov 17, 1970. For more on the story behind the mouse, see the Father of the Mouse webpage at the Doug Engelbart Institute website. To see the approved patent from 1970, see the Mouse Patent page at the Stanford University MouseSite.
Although the mouse represents a profound innovation in and of itself, it was a mere byproduct of the vision Doug Engelbart set out to implement in the early 1960s. To see an early demo of the technology, see the Mother of All Demos page.
For background on his driving vision, which is more salient today than ever before, see Doug’s Vision Highlights.
For Gardner’s New Media Seminar September 23, 2010Posted by Christina Engelbart in Collective IQ, Historic.
Thanks again to Gardner Campbell and gang for including me in his groundbreaking seminar “Awakening the Digital Imagination: A Networked Faculty Seminar” for today’s discussion based on Doug Engelbart’s 1962 seminal report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework as a jumping off point.
The assignment for today was to read the report (abridged) in the New Media Reader textbook, which includes a fabulous 2-page intro to the article, and Janet Murray’s delightful preface Inventing the Medium.
As promised, here is my follow-up of links I referenced, and links I would have liked to have referenced.
Re: my experience of my father’s 1968 Mother of All Demos
FYI I covered this in more detail, with more on what it was like having him for a dad, in my talk at the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1968 demo, with a sprinkling of family photos
Re: my blog on the “wibble wobble” method or
How Doug Engelbart taught kids to ride a bike (without training wheels)
Re: the Doug Engelbart Archive Collections
See the MouseSite Archive for his 1960 proposal to fund his Conceptual Framework and his 1962 letter to Vannevar Bush. See also our Archives portal page for links to archival videos, photos, papers, etc.
Re: Engelbart’s relationship with Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think”
See the MIT/Brown Tribute to Vannevar Bush (1995)
Tips for blogging about Doug Engelbart and his work
You can instantly copy/paste a link directly to most any snippet of information in any file at dougengelbart.org website by simply right-clicking on the nearest “purple number” in the right margin to Copy Link Location. Most pages also include a table of contents in the left margin to make it easier to find stuff. So for example, the two Engelbart readings for this class:
- Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. 1962 (AUGMENT,3906,)
- A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect. 1968 (AUGMENT,3954,)
While perusing the former’s Conclusions section, I copied out the following quote, then right-clicked on it’s purple number (which are an extension of the “serial numbers” he described in this week’s reading), and copied the link to it for reference, pasted it below, and then added the italics, quote marks and “Doug Engelbart 1962″:
“First any possibility for improving the effective utilization of
the intellectual power of society’s problem solvers
warrants the most serious consideration.
This is because man’s problem-solving capability represents
possibly the most important resource possessed by a society.”
– Doug Engelbart 1962 http://dougengelbart.org/pubs/augment-3906.html#6b
Just think how wonderful it would be if, anywhere on the internet (blogs, wiki, email, word processor), you could reference any snippet you see by simply right-clicking on the item selected and choosing “Create Reference” off the menu, and it supplies a copy of the snippet, in quotes, listing source author and date, with the link pointing directly to that item? This is just one of the many unfulfilled potentials of new, maleable, permeable, unbounded media he was envisioning.
For examples of student projects about Doug Engelbart’s work
See our Student Showcase, inspired by none other than Gardner Campbell
Once again, I was honored to participate in this class discussion, and in this marvelous experiment of a walk-your-talk network of distributed faculty seminars. My appreciation extends to the NMC for all their efforts in making this “expedition” possible.
The Doug Engelbart Institute
Celebrating 65 Years of “As We May Think” August 1, 2010Posted by Christina Engelbart in Collective IQ, Doug Engelbart Archives, Historic.
Tags: Doug Engelbart Archives
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This past month, July 2010, marked the 65th anniversary of the seminal article “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush — first published in the Atlantic Monthly, in July 1945. Through this article, Bush directly and indirectly influenced the great pioneers of the information age that followed — pioneers such as Doug Engelbart, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee.
A special symposium was held in 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bush’s article — the MIT/Brown Vannevar Bush Symposium organized by Andy van Dam. Over the course of two days, a dozen distinguished speakers reflected on Bush’s life, vision, inspiration and impact, examined what had been accomplished since, and revealed what remained to be done.
Watch the Video! Lucky for us, the Symposium was videotaped, and the complete footage of that event is now available to view online at the Internet Archive as part of the Doug Engelbart Archive – visit the Vannevar Bush Symposium Video page at the Doug Engelbart Institute website for details.
See also Simon Harper’s insightful blogpost ‘As We May Think’ at 65 « Thinking Out Loud….
Curt Carlson’s Opening Remarks June 9, 2010Posted by Christina Engelbart in Uncategorized.
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Following is the welcome address from the 40th anniversary celebration of Doug’s “Mother of All Demos” by Curt Carlson, President and CEO of SRI International, author of Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want.
You may also watch Curt deliver the address.
Good afternoon. I’m Curt Carlson, President and CEO of SRI International. While I can’t be with you in person today*, I want to welcome you to this very special event. I know you will enjoy the next few hours as you experience first hand Doug’s 1968 demo and hear stories from the people who made it happen.
Doug Engelbart once said, “The better we get, the better we get at getting better.” That idea, combined with the creation of some of the most innovative computing tools ever developed, has been a personal inspiration to all of us who have learned about Doug’s accomplishments.
Most of us think about Doug and his team appropriately in terms of the technologies that have become the foundation for personal computing. But Doug did much more than that. He showed us how to work together in a profoundly more effective way. a way that yields surprisingly better results.
When I first came to SRI I was excited about meeting Doug.But I also wanted to know how he created, with the small incredible SRI team, including Bill Englinsh, the greatest demonstration of computer science ideas ever. When someone achieves something of that magnitude, they are generally thinking about their approach in a fundamentally different way. And as I found out, doug was.
What I came to realize is that, while Demming provided the improvement approach for the industrial age, Doug provided the innovation approach for the knowledge age.
Doug and his team were innovation accelerators. In addition to having a strong vision, they captured the genius of their team, and they worked collaboratively to continuously improve both their tools and their solutions. They ultimately accomplished a tour de force unlike any other in the history of computing.
The team exemplified the disciplined approach to innovation we still use at SRI. We believe that our greatest innovation is the way we work. and at SRI today we continue to apply Doug’s approach in a family of programs, inlucinding the Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Observes program, or CALO[ref]. CALO is a $150m advanced artificial intelligence program to build tools that literally augment human intelligence, one of Doug’s major objectives.
Silicon Valley, the computing industry, and society are indebted to Doug and his team. SRI is honored to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1968 demo, and the people who changed more than computing, they changed the world.
*This speech was delivered on video, pre-recorded due to time zone challenges in the region he would be traveling in at the time of this event.
More on getting beyond paper and linear media May 17, 2010Posted by Christina Engelbart in Collective IQ.
Inspired by a recent blog by Mark Miller Getting beyond paper and linear media, May 6, 2010, here is some additional context from Doug Engelbart’s thinking.
In fact, you can find deep thinking on this theme as early as 1962 in his seminal report Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (see esp. section II.C.4).
Doug Engelbart was convinced from the beginning that the incredible power of the human mind has been seriously under served and limited by the ways we’ve evolved to express ourselves — by our very language, and even more so by the technologies we developed throughout history for recording and making available what’s in our mind – stone tablets, scrolls, printed paper, etc. The opportunity he saw for computers was to bring us much more advanced ways to conceptualize, express, capture, store, access, and broadly share and exchange, and otherwise leverage our thinking capacity. If you want to dramatically improve how we work together to solve important problems — i.e. to boost our collective IQ, which was Doug’s goal from the start — this idea would be a great starting point in considering how computers could be harnessed to really help with that.
So for example, if I were to make the suggestion “think of your car”, you would have an instant view in your mind of your car, “now picture the interior, front seat, dash board, what’s inside your glove compartment” your mind just bombs around the information you have stored away at any level of detail, in any combination, from any vantage point, depending on what you’re thinking about at a given moment. Our minds can also make instantaneous connections between different pieces of information, sparking brand new ideas.
Pages that you scroll through don’t offer this agility. Search engines offer a bit more help, although (1) search hits typically point you to the top of a page or file, rather than directly to the piece of information you are searching on, so after you click on the link you then need to Find or Scroll your way down through the (in this moment) extraneous stuff to finally arrive at what the search engine found potentially relevant, and (2) there are typically multiple hits, and sorting through them is laborious. If the author thought ahead to put anchor points at the places which in future someone might want to link to, that could help.
Connecting information in our information spaces provides further challenges. First, there are barriers between information spaces. Second, once I find the info I’m looking for, I can’t save or share a link directly to it for the same reason the search engines can’t, so I’m generally limited to creating a link to the top of a file with pointers on how to get to the specific info. Note that I thoughtfully inserted the anchor name #Pages on the preceding paragraph, so you can send someone this link http://collectiveiq.wordpress.com/2010/05/17/more-on-getting-beyond-paper-and-linear-media/#Pages directly to that paragraph. However, it would be hard for you to know that, it’s hard to find that out on your own unless you can View Source and painstakingly read through the HTML code.
One thing that could really help would be for our tools to provide more granular addressability for us. Spreadsheet applications do this — every cell in every spreadsheet is uniquely addressable. Documents should offer the same granularity. You’ll find a crude example in Doug’s 1962 paper cited above with its “purple numbers” in the right margins; clicking on a purple number will “jump” you to that paragraph, right-clicking on it allows you to Copy Link Location directly to that paragraph to paste elsewhere (see Doug Engelbart Institute’s About Our Website).
Over the years Doug identified a set of key functional and architectural elements like granular addressability that are crucial for advancing how computers can really begin to augment rather than automate or otherwise bypass the untapped potential of our individual and collective intellect. See About an Open Hyperdocument System (OHS) for highlights and links to more detail.
Note that beyond our language and tools, the way we interface to our work can be greatly limiting our untapped potential. This interface goes beyond the usual concerns of human-computer interface (HCI — the interface to our tools), to encompass the interface to our entire work environment — i.e. to tools we use as well as the facilities, work practices, processes, methodologies, customs, attitudes, etc. invoked when we engage with each other and our information. See Doug’s paper Improving Our Ability to Improve, 2003 (esp. page 11 beginning “Another critical focus area”).
Needless to say, directions in mainstream computing since Doug’s 1968 “Mother of All Demos” were largely disappointing to Doug and his like-minded colleagues — the advent of personal computers with no provision for networking or shared knowledge spaces, office automation (why would you automate how you used to work?), desktop publishing and WYSIWYG (easy to learn is great, as long as it doesn’t also mean funneling advanced users into lowest common denominator “what you see is ALL you get” paper-based paradigms).
So what’s missing in today’s information technology? A fundamental paradigm shift. I am reminded of the Einstein quote “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
For more on Doug’s vision as well as what he and his research team implemented, see the Doug Engelbart Institute website http://dougengelbart.org.
How Doug Engelbart taught kids to ride a bike (without training wheels) December 11, 2009Posted by Christina Engelbart in Historic, Human Interest.
When Doug Engelbart was a kid, he and his brother used to practice trick bike riding. They got so they could bend over and scoop something off the ground while riding (without losing speed and without squatting down), ride their bikes backwards seated on their handlebars, and other fancy feats.
Watch Doug explain it during his seminar
When it came time for his own kids to learn how to ride a bike, at a time when most kids would go from riding a tricycle, to riding a bicycle with training wheels, and finally riding a bicycle without training wheels, Doug figured he could just skip the with training wheels part. After all, their only function was to keep the bike from falling over!
Doug knew from practiced experience and an inquisitive analytical mind that as you pedal along, all it takes to keep the bike from falling over is steering. In fact, the reason you don’t fall over is you are constantly making tiny corrections, and sometimes last-minute bigger corrections, with your handlebars (or, if you’re a big shot riding with no hands, by shifting your weight). What you’re actually doing without thinking is sensing the bike starting to tilt, and reacting by steering the bike in that same direction just enough to un-tilt your bike and straighten out more or less, over and over again. This becomes very evident as you slow down to a stop, if you keep your feet on the pedals you will automatically try to use steering to keep the bike from falling over. Somehow everyone who ever learned to ride a bike learned this.
It turns out, you don’t have to steer if you just get a gentle, even back and forth see-sawing motion going with the handlebars as you roll along, the back and forth motion usually corrects the tilting soon enough and you won’t fall. In fact, someone with little or no bike riding experience at all can just see-saw their handlebars as they pedal and mostly not fall.
So this is how Doug taught kids to ride. First he would show them how he could see-saw his handlebars back and forth while he pedaled slowly on his bike. Then he would ask them to try the same thing as he walked alongside, holding onto the bike loosely just to help it maintain a reasonable speed, and to keep it/them from falling when they over- or under-corrected. As long as they kept moving forward and see-sawing the handlebars, they would naturally start to get a feel for this direct relationship between tilting, steering and untilting, and gradually start refining the motions, and pretty soon off they’d go.
He found it helped to have the kids play around with how gentle or exaggerated the see-sawing motions needed to be to stay upright. It also helped to practice in a wide open space to avoid having to make any turns or run into stuff — a quiet street, empty parking lot, or even a mowed field will do. Practicing how to stop is important too.
So that’s the trick to learning to ride without training wheels. As a matter of fact, training wheels can actually impede the learning process by interfering with the tilting-steering-untilting cause and effect experience, either by keeping the bike from tilting, or with looser training wheels, by training the kids to keep the bike from falling by leaning into one training wheel or the other rather than steering.
Doug’s inquisitive nature, adventurous attitude, compassion, and patience were a key part of his success with this method. He never coined a term for it, but in later years one of his daughters referred to it as his “wibble-wobble method” — one of his lesser known but highly endearing innovations.