Douglas Engelbart and 'The Mother of All Demos'

Doug Engelbart's presentation at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, was a live online hypermedia demonstration of the pioneering work that Engelbart's group had been doing at SRI. Later called "The Mother of All Demos" by Andy van Dam, this historic demonstration paved the way for human-computer interaction. Sections of it are currently on display in the Exhibit on The Information Age at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.

In the 1968 FJCC demonstration, Engelbart showed how the computer could be used to deal with everyday tasks. The majority of the presentation centered aound him using the computer to plan out a set of things which he had to do later. All of this information was in a simple hypertext which contained many different methods of organization, each appropriate to the task at hand.

For example, the list of things which Engelbart had to do later was organized as a graphical map of the locations where he would have to go, connected by the route he would take. On the other hand, his shopping list was organized hierarchically by category and he had the ability to easily expand or elide sections of the heirarchy or move items between sections. Also, documentation for the system and other similar text was displayed and manipulated as text with inline links to other places, in a mode evocative of the WWW hypertext style.

Key to Engelbart's fluid computer-human interaction was that the interface was intimately linked with the work environment and appropriate user-interface devices were used. His desk and workspace were built around the computer, it was the focus of attention, and it provided feedback such as a quiet audio tone indicating its status.

Engelbart's research team developed the mouse to navigate and manipulate the system, and a one-handed chording keyboard so the user could still perform commands and type input while using the mouse (a luxury that we still don't have today).

Another key was that they realized that the computer was an excellent tool for facilitating collaboration. Since the computers and monitors of the day were bulky, they were kept in machine rooms; the display was brought to the user by placing a television camera in front of the monitor and bringing the image to the user via a closed circuit.

They realized that by having the computer control the switching of video signals and by adding other video systems under the control of the computer, users could have live video and audio conferencing simultaneously with working on the computer. Engelbart demonstrated working collaboratively from the live demo in San Francisco with a co-worker in his lab back at SRI. In fact, that co-worker demonstrated part of the system from the remote SRI location.

Bibliographic References

From the Bootstrap Institute readings list:

"A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect," Douglas C. Engelbart, and William K. English, AFIPS Conference Proceedings of the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, San Francisco, CA, December 1968, Vol. 33, pp. 395-410 (AUGMENT,3954,). Republished in 1982 with Items #4, #21, and #23 in Computer Supported Cooperative Work: A Book of Readings, Irene Greif [Editor], Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc., San Mateo, CA, 1988, pp. 81-105.

"The Augmented Knowledge Workshop," (82-min. VHS video cassette recording) Douglas C. Engelbart presentation at the ACM Conference on the History of Personal Workstations, Palo Alto, CA, January 9-10, 1986; companion to Article #24 above. Includes 20 minutes from the historic 1968 FJCC demonstration #1

"Together We Can Get There," (90-min. VHS video cassette recording) Patricia Seybold interviews Douglas C. Engelbart on high-performance organizations and what it will take to achieve them. Bootstrap Institute, 1991.

Bound Collections

The Augmentation Papers: A complete collection of 25+ papers by Engelbart and his staff depicting his guiding vision and pioneering breakthroughs from 1960 to the present - and the future. Includes two-page biographical sketch and bibliography. (Approximately two inches thick, spiral bound with high-quality section tabs) Price: $125

Bootstrap Seminar Binder: 1992 From Engelbart's 3-day management seminar over 200 pages of annotated slides and selected readings. (344 slides produced 3 per page in looseleaf 1.5" 3-ring binder with 23 high-quality section tabs) Price: $125

Boosting Collective IQ: 1996 The spiral-bound proceedings from Engelbart's half-day management seminar "Boosting Collective IQ". Includes all slide handouts accompanying his "Bootstrap Paradigm Map" presentation in Macromedia Director(TM), plus selected readings. Price: $35

Web References

Douglas Engelbart's Bootstrap Institute home page

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