Doug Engelbart, computing visionary, RIP

Doug Engelbart, RIP

Put simply, Doug Engelbart is the inspiration for my professional career.

Doug spent a lifetime explaining to people how things might be: that human-computer systems could augment human intellect. Firstly, in an era when everyone else was feeding punch-cards to electronic wardrobes, he showed how and why computers could be live extensions to our individual minds. In that extraordinary 1968 Mother of All Demos (Archive / Highlights / Wikipedia), showed a computing conference audience some very weird things his SRI team had been developing: a mouse, editing text directly on the screen, hyperlinks, collaborative editing, video-conferencing. Those breakthroughs went on to further development at Xerox PARC, and then into products via Apple, and finally on to Windows, as is well documented.

This in itself takes us way past the man who invented the mouse news headlines of this week.

But his real vision was on how massive connectivity could improve our collective intelligence, and ability to tackle the “complex, urgent problems” facing humanity. If augmenting an individual’s intellect is hard, augmenting many minds to work together is orders of magnitude tougher.

The complex urgent challenges aren’t going away, but concepts of Collective IQ and Networked Improvement Communities are gaining traction technically and conceptually.

I was honoured that he wrote the Afterword to my first book, and I’ll always remember his visit and lecture to the OU.


Living in a future few others see is not an easy calling.
Thank you for your resilience, and for what you have given humanity.
May we make it an increasingly embedded reality.

Doug Engelbart

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