Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart

Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (born January 30, 1925) is an American inventor. He is best known for inventing the computer mouse (in a joint effort with Bill English); as a pioneer of human-computer interaction whose team developed hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to GUIs; and as a committed and vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and networks to help cope with the world’s increasingly urgent and complex problems.

Early life and education

Engelbart was born in the U.S. state of Oregon on January 30, 1925. He graduated from Portland's Franklin High School in 1942. He received a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University (then called Oregon State College) in 1948, a B.Eng. from UC Berkeley in 1952 , and a Ph.D. in EECS from UC Berkeley in 1955. While at Oregon State, he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity.

As a World War II naval radio technician based in the Philippines, Engelbart was inspired by Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think". After the war, he studied at UC Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1955, and where he was involved in the construction of the CALDIC as a student. He spent over a year trying to create an unsuccessful startup, Digital Techniques, to commercialize some of his doctorate research into storage devices, then worked with Hewitt Crane on magnetic logic devices at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), now headquartered in Menlo Park, while the organization was still affiliated with Stanford University.

Career and accomplishments

Historian of science Thierry Bardini has persuasively argued that Engelbart's complex personal philosophy (which drove all his research endeavors) foreshadowed the modern application of the concept of coevolution to the philosophy and use of technology. Bardini points out that Engelbart was strongly influenced by the principle of linguistic relativity developed by Benjamin Lee Whorf.

Where Whorf reasoned that the sophistication of a language controls the sophistication of the thoughts that can be expressed by a speaker of that language, Engelbart reasoned that the state of our current technology controls our ability to manipulate information, and that fact in turn will control our ability to develop new, improved technologies. He thus set himself to the revolutionary task of developing computer-based technologies for manipulating information directly, and also to improve individual and group processes for knowledge-work. Engelbart's philosophy and research agenda is most clearly and directly expressed in the 1962 research report which Engelbart refers to as his 'bible': Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework The concept of network augmented intelligence is attributed to Engelbart based on this pioneering work.


At SRI International, Engelbart was the primary force behind the design and development of the On-Line System, or NLS. He and his team at the Augmentation Research Center (ARC, the lab he founded at SRI) developed computer-interface elements such as bit-mapped screens, groupware, hypertext and precursors to the graphical user interface. He conceived and developed many of his user interface ideas back in the mid-1960s, long before the personal computer revolution, at a time when most individuals were kept away from computers, and could only use computers through intermediaries (see batch processing), and when software tended to be written for vertical applications in proprietary systems.

In 1967, Engelbart applied for, and in 1970 he received a patent for the wooden shell with two metal wheels (computer mouse ), describing it in the patent application as an "X-Y position indicator for a display system". Engelbart later revealed that it was nicknamed the "mouse" because the tail came out the end. His group also called the on-screen cursor a "bug," but this term was not widely adopted.

He never received any royalties for his mouse invention, partly because his patent expired in 1987, before the personal computer revolution made the mouse an indispensable input device, and also because subsequent mice used different mechanisms that did not infringe upon the original patent. During an interview, he says "SRI patented the mouse, but they really had no idea of its value. Some years later it was learned that they had licensed it to Apple for something like $40,000."

Engelbart showcased many of his and ARC's inventions in 1968 at the so-called mother of all demos.


Because Engelbart's research and tool-development for online collaboration and interactive human-computer interfaces was partially funded by ARPA, SRI's ARC became involved with the ARPANET (the precursor of the Internet).

On October 29, 1969, the world's first electronic computer network, the ARPANET, was established between nodes at Leonard Kleinrock's lab at UCLA and Engelbart's lab at SRI. Interface Message Processors at both sites served as the backbone of the first Internet

In addition to SRI and UCLA, UCSB, and the University of Utah were part of the original four network nodes. By December 5, 1969, the entire 4-node network was connected.

ARC soon became the first Network Information Center and thus managed the directory for connections among all ARPANET nodes. ARC also published a large percentage of the early Request For Comments, an ongoing series of publications that document the evolution of ARPANET/Internet.

End of corporate career and subsequent developments

Engelbart slipped into relative obscurity after 1976 due to various misfortunes and misunderstandings. Several of Engelbart's best researchers became alienated from him and left his organization for Xerox PARC, in part due to frustration, and in part due to differing views of the future of computing. Engelbart saw the future in timeshare (client/server) computing, which younger programmers rejected in favor of the personal computer. The conflict was both technical and social: Engelbart came from a time in which only timeshare computing was achievable, and also believed in joint effort; the younger programmers came from an era where centralized power was highly suspect, and personal computing was just barely on the horizon.

In his book about Engelbart, Bardini points out that in the early 1970s, several key ARC personnel were briefly involved in Erhard Seminars Training. Although EST seemed like a good idea at first, the controversial nature of EST reduced the morale and social cohesion of the ARC community.

The Mansfield Amendment, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of the Apollo program reduced ARC's funding from ARPA and NASA. SRI's management, which disapproved of Engelbart's approach to running the center, placed the remains of ARC under the control of artificial intelligence researcher Bertram Raphael, who negotiated the transfer of the laboratory to a company called Tymshare. Engelbart's house in Atherton burned down during this period, causing him and his family even further problems. Tymshare took over NLS and the lab that Engelbart had founded, hired most of the lab's staff including its creator as a Senior Scientist, and offered commercial services based upon NLS. Tymshare was already somewhat familiar with NLS; back when ARC was still operational, it had experimented with its own local copy of the NLS software on a minicomputer called OFFICE-1, as part of a joint project with ARC.

At Tymshare, Engelbart soon found himself marginalized and relegated to obscurity--operational concerns at Tymshare overrode Engelbart's desire to do further research. Various executives, first at Tymshare and later at McDonnell Douglas (which took over Tymshare in 1982), expressed interest in his ideas, but never committed the funds or the people to further develop them. He left McDonnell in 1986 and retired from corporate life.

Since the late 1980s, prominent individuals and organizations have recognized the seminal importance of Engelbart's contributions:

In December 1995, at the Fourth WWW Conference in Boston, he was the first recipient of what would later become the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award. In 1997 he was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize of $500,000, the world's largest single prize for invention and innovation, and the Turing Award. In 1998 the Stanford Silicon Valley Archives and the Institute for the Future hosted Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution, a large symposium at Stanford University's Memorial Auditorium, to honor Engelbart and his ideas. In early 2000 Engelbart produced, with a dedicated team of volunteers and financial supporters, what was called the Engelbart Colloquium or The Unfinished Revolution - II, at Stanford University. The Colloquium was meant to document and publicize his work and ideas to a large audience (live, and online). The archives of this Engelbart UnRev-II Colloquium at Stanford are still available online as of this writing (September 2005). In December 2000, US President Bill Clinton awarded Engelbart the National Medal of Technology, the United States' highest technology award. In 2001 Engelbart was awarded a British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, and in 2005 he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum and honored with the Norbert Wiener Award , which is given annually by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Robert X. Cringely did an hour long interview with Mr. Engelbart on 9 Dec 2005 in his NerdTV video podcast series.

At present

Currently (at age 83 in 2008), he is the director of his own company, the Bootstrap Institute, which he founded in 1988 with one of his daughters, Christina Engelbart. It is located in Menlo Park, California and promotes Engelbart's latest refinement of his philosophy, the concept of Collective IQ, and development of what he calls Open Hyper-Document Systems (OHS). In 2005 Engelbart received a National Science Foundation grant to fund the open source HyperScope project. The Hyperscope project has built a browser component using Ajax and DHTML designed to replicate Augment's multiple viewing and jumping capabilities (linking within and across various documents). HyperScope is perceived as the first step of a process designed to engage a wider community in a dialogue, on development of collaborative software and services, based on Engelbart's goals and research. Bootstrap Institute is now housed at SRI International.


Engelbart has four children, Gerda, Diana, Christina and Norman with his late wife, Ballard, and currently has nine grandchildren.

See also


Bardini, Thierry, Bootstrapping - Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing, Stanford University Press 2000)

External links

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