The Mother of All Demos

Fifty years ago, Doug Engelbart held what is now known as the “Mother of All Demos,” at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. In his talk, Engelbart, quite frankly, showed off the future:

This weekend, several people noted the anniversary. Here is Cyrus Farivar at Ars Technica:

On December 9, 1968 at a computer conference in San Francisco, Engelbart showed off the first inklings of numerous technologies that we all now take for granted: video conferencing, a modern desktop-style user interface, word processing, hypertext, the mouse, collaborative editing, among many others.

Klint Finley at Wired writes about some of the specifics:

The oN-Line System was the first hypertext system, preceding the web by more than 20 years. But it was so much more than that. When Engelbart typed a word, it appeared simultaneously on his screen in San Francisco and on a terminal screen at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. When Engelbart moved his mouse, the cursor moved in both locations.

The demonstration was impressive not just because Engelbart showed off Google Docs-style collaboration decades before Google was founded. It was impressive because he and his team at SRI’s Augmentation Research Center had to conceive of and create nearly every piece of technology they displayed, from the window-based graphical interface to the computer mouse.

Steve Dent at Engadget:

“If in your office, you as an intellectual worker, were supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you have, how much value could you derive from that?” Engelbart asked. “Well, this basically characterizes what we’ve been pursuing for many years in what we call augmented human intellect research center at the Stanford Research Institute.”

It’s amazing how spot-on Engelbart’s vision of the future ended up being. He was either a time traveler or one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. Maybe both.