Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Inventor and Computing Pioneer Douglas Engelbart Has Died at Age 88

Douglas Engelbart, the inventor and computing pioneer who will probably be best remembered as one of the people who invented the computer mouse, died last night at the age of 88.

His death was confirmed in a statement from his daughter, Christina Engelbart, on the Interesting People mailing list maintained by Carnegie Mellon computer science professor Dave Farber:

“Very sorry to inform my father passed away in his sleep peacefully at home last night. His health had been deteriorating of late, and took turn for worse on the weekend. I will circle back around soon, for now just wanted to give you all advance notice and look forward to discussing your thoughts as I am a bit fuzzy at present.”

Born in Portland, Ore., in 1925, he was one of the generation of thinkers and engineers influenced by Vannevar Bush’s important 1945 essay “As We May Think” and dedicated his career to making the world a better place.

Engelbart receivied the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 2000.

White House Photo Engelbart received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 2000.

After earning a masters and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley, he settled at what was then known as the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) and set to work on a series of projects he titled “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.”

He recruited researchers to work in a lab within SRI called the Augmentation Research Center. Starting in about 1962 they worked on such things as bitmapped computer displays, the mouse, hypertext and early iterations of what we would now call the graphical user interface.

The work culminated in what became known as “The Mother of All Demos,” a 90-minute public session held on Dec. 9, 1968, in Menlo Park, Calif., of NLS, the oNLine System, a combination of technologies that pointed a way toward many of the computing paradigms we now use every day. It was the first public demonstration of the mouse, dynamic file linking and remote collaboration on a shared screen. Stanford has preserved video and audio of the presentation here, and I’ve embedded the first portion of the video below.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work