Doug Engelbart - RIP

If you use a mouse, hyperlinks, video conferencing, WYSIWYG word processor, multi-window user interface, shared documents, shared database, documents with images & text, keyword search, instant messaging, synchronous collaboration, asynchronous collaboration — thank Doug Engelbart.

Thanks to people like Doug we have the digital world and the modern transformation we are seeing all around us. The power of innovation at its finest. More here.

Update: More than the actual technology the philosophy and goals of Dr Engelbart where the key and an important learning for all of us.

His system, called NLS, showed actual instances of, or precursors to, hypertext, shared screen collaboration, multiple windows, on-screen video teleconferencing, and the mouse as an input device.

These are not true statements.

Engelbart had an intent, a goal, a mission. He stated it clearly and in depth . He intended to augment human intellect. He intended to boost collective intelligence and enable knowledge workers to think in powerful new ways, to collectively solve urgent global problems.

So for all you innovators in the social sector, the goals of solving wicked problems” are not only possible but augmented due to the work of people like Dr Engelbart.

In his own words.

The title of the paper was, Augmenting the Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” It was an attempt to create systems that provide intellectual support. Through the generations, humans have invented all kinds of tools and methods to support intellectual work. We have entire augmentation systems already. Improving the systems we have for supporting intellectual work really deserves explicit cultivation. I tried to outline the ways the new computer system could help us augment our natural abilities. Imagine how important it would be. I see it as analogous to the way a shovel augments small digging projects, while the bulldozer really augments our ability for big projects.

Scaling Human Capabilities for Solving Problems that Threaten Our Survival By Sam Hahn

Unfortunately, often people fail to increase their own capacity. We fail into the ease of use” trap and don’t choose to evolve our behaviors and practices.

Engelbart illustrates this concept with a simple question, “Would you rather go across town on a tricycle or a bicycle?” A tricycle is obviously easier to learn to ride, but clearly nowhere near as efficient as a bicycle. There’s a learning curve from tricycle to bicycle. There’s a learning curve moving away from tried and true traditional methods, to new practices and ways of thinking that will enable us to become more highly functional beings and teams capable of collaboration.

Engelbart devoted his life to a paradigm shift to move us away from our current dysfunctional political and organizational models. Right now, we have no solution to urgent and complex global problems: disparity between poor and rich, environmental problems, evermore dangerous diseases, religious strife—those can kill the human race. (In one extreme perspective, we have proven we are the world’s most destructive virus.)

Engelbart’s framework proposes a new way of thinking about problems—changing the competitive, power-based models and focusing on how to integrate our ideas toward a greater whole.

Engelbart does not offer a formula to follow. The framework necessitates that you start somewhere and build your collective capabilities by learning as you go—improving your tools and practices, reflecting, and using your insight to develop better tools and practices. Do this often, and do this quickly.

That’s the essence of bootstrapping and the co-evolution of human and tool systems. (By the way, some call it agile” these days.) But it has to be done on a massive scale. If we have a lot of uncoordinated small efforts, or working at cross-purposes, we likely won’t accelerate our achievement of human survival.


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