Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart (born January 30, 1925 in Oregon) is an American inventor of Norwegian descent. He is best known for inventing the computer mouse (in a joint effort with William 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 more urgent and complex problems (which Horst W. J. Rittel and others since have called wicked problems).
Engelbart received a Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1948, a Bachelor of Engineering degree from UC Berkeley in 1952, and a Ph.D.. from UC Berkeley in 1955.
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, Engelbart studied at UC Berkeley, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1955. He spent over a year trying to create an unsuccessful startup, Digital Techniques, to commercialize some of his doctorate research into storage devices, then was hired to work in magnetic logic devices at the Stanford Research Institute, 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.
At SRI, 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 (the lab he founded) developed computer-interface elements such as bit-mapped screens, multiple windows, 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, and when software tended to be written for vertical applications in proprietary systems.
In 1970 Engelbart 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. It was also called the bug at the time but eventually this practice died out. 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 I learned that they had licensed it to Apple for something like $40,000."
Because Engelbart's research and tool-development for online collaboration and interactive human-computer interfaces was partially funded by ARPA, SRI's ARC and UCLA became the first two nodes on the ARPANET (the precursor of the Internet). 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 when Xerox PARC raided ARC for talent. The Mansfield Amendment, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of Project Apollo 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 Bert Raphael , who fired Engelbart (from the lab that Engelbart had founded) in 1976. Engelbart's house in Atherton burned down shortly afterwards, causing him and his family even further problems.
In 1978, a company called Tymshare bought NLS, hired 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 1996 he was awarded 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 Paul Saffo, from the Institute for the Future , hosted "The Unfinished Revolution I," 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). And in 2001 he was awarded a British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal.
Currently (at age 80 in 2005), he is the director of his own company, the Bootstrap Institute which he founded in 1988 with his daughter, Christina Engelbart . It is located in Fremont, 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), and HyperScope, a subset of OHS. Bootstrap is housed rent-free courtesy of the Logitech Corp., the world's largest manufacturer of computer mice.
He is organizing a Networked Improvement Community focusing on education with students and scholars from around the world led by Assistant Professor Valerie Landau at California State University, Monterey Bay. Much of the discussion is posted on opencourse.org developed by Robert Stephenson and Dorai Thodla.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 16:10:31
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