50 years later, we are living the reality shown for the first time in "Mother of All Demos"


Douglas Engelbart during his 1968 demonstration.

Douglas Engelbart during his 1968 demonstration.

SRI International

Half a century ago, computer history took a giant leap when Douglas Engelbart – then a 43-year engineer at the Stanford Research Institute in the heart of Silicon Valley – gave what came to be known as the "mother of all." demos. "

On December 9, 1968, at a computer conference in San Francisco, Engelbart showed the first insights of countless technologies we all now take for granted: videoconferencing, a modern user interface, word processing, hypertext, mouse, editing collaboration , among many others.

Even before his famous demonstration, Engelbart outlined his vision of the future more than half a century ago in his landmark 1962 article, "Raising Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework."

To open the 90-minute presentation, Engelbart postulated an issue that almost seemed trivial to us in the early 21st century: "If in your office, you as an intellectual worker would receive a computer monitor, backed up by a computer that was alive for you the whole day, and was instantly responsible – responsive – to every action you took, how much value would you deduct from it? "

Of course, back then, computers were huge monsters that were light years away from pocket devices that have practically become an extension of ourselves.

Engelbart, who died in 2013, was inspired by a now legendary essay, published in 1945 by Vannevar Bush, a physicist who had been in charge of the United States Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II.

This essay, "As We May Think," speculated on a "future device for individual use, which is a kind of mechanized private archive and library." It was this essay that stayed with a young Engelbart – then a Navy technician stationed in the Philippines – for more than two decades.

In 1968, Engelbart created what he called the "oN-Line System", or NLS, a proto-intranet. ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet itself, would not be established by the end of the following year.

Five years later, in 1973, Xerox debuted the Alto, considered the first modern personal computer. This, in turn, has inspired both Macintosh and Microsoft Windows, and the rest, clearly, is history.

"Doug and [J.C.R. Licklider] were two of our most distant visionaries, "Vint Cerf, the co-creator of the TCP / IP protocol, told Ars in July 2013.

"Doug's NLS was as close to Vannever Bush's Memex vision as you could have in the 1960s. He had a strong sense of how computers could increase the human capacity to think. its origins to Doug and the people who created NLS with it. [Web] is a manifestation of something he imagined or hoped for, although his aspirations exceeded even in terms of human-computer partnerships. "

In 2015, Stanford University hosted "The Demo," a musical play inspired on this occasion.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Is hosting some birthday-related events, both on December 9th, with another one at the end of the week, on December 12.


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