Some of Silicon Valley?s cleverest minds gathered together on Wednesday to honour Doug Engelbart, the father of the computer mouse, who has been dubbed ?one of the most misunderstood revolutionaries?.
The symposium, entitled ?Engelbart?s Unfinished Revolution?, was held to celebrate his work at the Stanford Research Institute and to praise the assumption at the root of his endeavours 30 years ago, which has now been appropriated by socalled visionaries today.
His core belief was that people would have a computer available to them at all times and they would be able to interact with it. Englebart was shown propounding the theory on 30 year old black-and-white video footage at the event.
Charles Irby, who was also in the original audience on December 9, 1968, said: ?At the time, computers were just for data processing. And then you walk into that plenary session, and it was just mind-blowing. It changed my life. The idea that a computer would be dedicated to interacting with a person on a full-time basis, was just unthinkable.?
Irby went on to join Engelbart?s team at Stanford.
In the demo, Engelbart shared and collaborated on documents with a colleague 30 miles away and demonstrated the gadget he invented in 1963 - the mouse.
However, while many of the technological innovations he demonstrated have now become mainstream, to Engelbart, gadgets such as the mouse were just a distraction from the true purpose of his work: to use computer technology to improve the way people think and work together.
Which is why Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future (IFTF), a research institute in Menlo Park, California, has dubbed him ?one of the most misunderstood revolutionaries?.
In 1968, Engelbart had both fans and critics. The latter derided him for his idealistic aim of trying to use technology to help people work together more effectively, improving what he called the ?collective IQ?.
He was particularly unpopular with the proponents of Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as Marvin Minsky and Terry Winograd, who were trying to make computers think. Engelbart merely saw IT as a tool to help people think.
But Winograd admitted thirty years later: ?If you look at Silicon Valley now, how much of it is based on AI and how much is based on Doug Engelbart??.
The influence of Engelbart?s ideas is evident in concepts such as ?groupware? and Lotus Notes, which has adopted many of the document-sharing and group collaboration ideas found in his 1968 prototype, the NLS (oN-Line System).
Some of the community-building potential of computers is also now starting to be realised with the rise of the Internet, which Englebart helped pioneer.
But his influence does not stop there. The researcher inspired other younger innovators, and the legendary Palo Alto Research Institute of Xerox was founded in the early seventies by graduates from his Stanford research team.
They developed many of his ideas and created the prototype of the present-day PC - the Alto on which the Apple Macintosh was originally based.
And when Bill Gates, Microsoft?s chairman and chief executive, today speaks of the ?Digital Nervous System? that will connect workers in a company together and make the enterprise smarter, his descriptions appear to come straight from Engelbart?s 1968 footage.
Today, Engelbart is still working at a research institute he founded called the Bootstrap Institute, but feels his goals have still not been reached.
?I don?t think the world has really bought it?, he said.
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