On December 9, 1968, the modern world was born.
Douglas Engelbart, working for the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) showed the future of modern computing to a roomful of people that, for the most part, understood virtually none of it.
In a tour de force, Engelbart introduced the world to video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, copy and paste, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, and collaborative real-time editing.
Additionally, he also demonstrated a new type of input device, a block of wood that tracked hand movement and had only three buttons. His team referred to it as a mouse, a name that stuck. Surprisingly, they worked with the computer interactively, rather than running a program with a set of data that then produced a result or stored the data on tape. Interactive computing was rare but not unheard of: Sutherland’s Sketchpad program was interactive.
Officially, Engelbart presented a paper entitled A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect. Unofficially, Engelbart referred to it as The Mother of All Demos.
Engelbart’s mentors included computer visionaries J.C.R. Licklider, Ivan Sutherland, Bob Taylor, and Larry Roberts, all working for DARPA. Eventually, Robert Taylor would go on to lead the development of similar work at Xerox PARC.
During the demo, about 1,000 computer scientists gathered in Melo Park, California. Markedly, two computers were networked together, one running the demo and another back at the office. With each innovation, Sutherland announced “Look what else we can do here,” a theme Apple’s Steve Jobs would pick up decades later as “Just one more thing.”
The vast majority used computers with punch cards in their daily lives. They watched Engelbart and, according to him, filed out without asking a question or saying a word. To computer scientists of this era, the technology looked more science fiction than anything real. Surprisingly to Engelbart, they weren’t sure what anybody would do with it.
Engelbart’s research was sponsored by the Advanced Research Project Agency (the precursor to DARPA), NASA, and the US Air Force.
Most of Engelbart’s innovations lay in the lab until adopted first by Xerox PARC and, eventually, by Apple, Microsoft, and countless others. Engelbart never embraced the idea of individual personal computers — he preferred large central computers — and declined to participate in future work.