Douglas C Engelbart Essay Research Paper OverviewA

Douglas C. Engelbart Essay, Research Paper Overview A pioneer in the area of human-computer communications, Engelbart’s theories on using computers and software to augment human intellect led to the development

Douglas C. Engelbart Essay, Research Paper

Overview

A pioneer in the area of human-computer communications, Engelbart’s

theories on using computers and software to augment human intellect led to the development

of such items as the graphical user interface (GUI) and the mouse.

Although such things as the graphical user interface and the mouse are largely taken

for granted today, they might not be part of the computing environment without Douglas

Engelbart and his quest to develop a computerized system to assist human intellect.

Douglas Engelbart was born in 1925 in Portland, Ore. He graduated from high school in

Portland and enrolled at Oregon State University in Corvallis in 1942. Engelbart planned

to study electrical engineering, and had a strong interest in learning RADAR, at the time

a new military technology. Although he had no interest in a military career, he also had

no other career plans. He was merely interested in getting an education.

Engelbart was drafted at the end of his sophomore year, and took a test the Navy had

designed to identify individuals with interest in RADAR technology. He passed the test and

was accepted into the Navy’s year-long training program.

It was Engelbart’s years as a radar tech that would greatly shape his future

vision of how computers should display information. Also an early influence on his work

was Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article "As We May Think," a discussion of the

future use of machines as mechanical aids to human intellect, which he read in a Red Cross

hospital in the Phillipines while awaiting discharge.

Following the war, Engelbart returned to Oregon State University, where he received a

bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1948. After graduation, he took a

position as an electrical engineer at Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in Mountain View,

Calif.

It was during this time that Engelbart began thinking about how complicated the world

had become and how humans would manage the complex new challenges they were facing. He

considered the human thought process, and the tools humans use to think.

While driving to work one day, he saw an image of the radar screens he had spent hours

scanning while in the Navy, and he envisioned how similar screens could be used to display

information from a computer. The theory of augmentation—assisting the development of

greater human intellect by allowing machines to perform the mechanical part of thinking

and idea sharing—began to develop.

At the time, there was just a handful of computers across the country, and the only way

to get information from them was through punch cards and printouts. Yet, Engelbart could

see how easily computers and human beings could work together if the tools could be

developed to allow them to do so. It would take some 10 years before he would find anyone

to take him seriously, however.

In 1951, Engelbart decided to look for a way to get into the computer field. He left

Ames and entered graduate school at the University of California-Berkeley, which was

conducting a project to build a general purpose digital computer. Although he didn’t

make contact with an actual computer at Berkeley until 1953, and he wasn’t able to

convince his colleagues to spend valuable research time investigating his ideas, he did

receive his Ph.D. in electrical engineering in 1955, and he stayed on to teach for another

year.

Hoping to develop some of the patents from his Ph.D. work to fund his augmentation

research, Engelbart then started a small business. He closed it in 1957 when he realized

that the semiconductor industry was poised to bypass much of his earlier research.

Tired after seven years of trying to convince others of the ideas he wished to pursue,

Engelbart took a position as a computer researcher with the Stanford Research Institute in

Menlo Park, Calif. There, he was able to persuade SRI’s management to devote some of

its internal research and development money to his efforts.

Coupled with funds Engelbart had received from the Air Force, he was able to work

full-time for several years at his regular job, using his spare time to develop and write

the concepts behind the technologies he envisioned. This work would help fund his future

research.

The launch of the Soviet spaceship Sputnik in 1957 would propel Engelbart’s

research forward as well. In response to Sputnik’s launch, and the ensuing concern

over the U.S.’s loss of technological superiority, the federal government developed

the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to fund new research projects that might help

the U.S. regain its traditional strength.

One of the projects ARPA staff was interested in was Engelbart’s, and in 1963 his

group at SRI received funding for a laboratory designed to move computer technology into a

new realm. Engelbart called this process "bootstrapping," a term he still uses

today, and he named the laboratory the Augmentation Research Center (ARC).

There, Engelbart and several colleagues created the On-Line System (NLS), the first

integrated environment for idea processing. The system utilized a number of tools that

most computer users take for granted today—outline editors for idea development, a

mouse pointing device for on-screen selection, shared-screen teleconferencing, hypertext

linking, word processing, e-mail, on-line help systems, and a full windowing software

environment.

In 1968, Engelbart and his group demonstrated these capabilities at the Fall Joint

Computer Conference in San Francisco. Before a large audience, using a keyboard, screen,

mouse and a head-mounted microphone, Engelbart demonstrated the system he had long dreamed

about. It was the first working model for the future of computers, and it electrified the

audience.

ARPA canceled the funding of the Augmentation Center in the early 1970s, and the center

closed in 1977. Many of the team members went on to the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC),

a new research center Xerox Corporation had built. There, Engelbart’s creations were

refined, added to, and used as the basis for the first personal computer, the Altair.

Engelbart, however, joined Tymshare Inc., which had bought the teleconferencing system he

demonstrated at the San Francisco conference in 1968. He worked at Tymshare as a senior

scientist until the company was purchased by McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1989.

In recent years, Engelbart has worked at Stanford University, where he is director of

the Bootstrap Project. The focus of the project is to bring together computer vendors,

developers, and end-users to work together on the technology required by today’s

rapidly changing world. The project is funded by the Kapor Family Foundation, Apple

Computers, and Sun Microsystems.

Sources:

<http:/www.ualberta.ca/~ckeep/hf10035.html>Keep, C.J., McLaughlin, Tim. Douglas

Engelbart. Copyright 1995, robinrobin.escalation@ACM.org.

Rheingold, Howard. Virtual Reality. Summit Books, 1991.

<http://sln.fi.edu/tfi/exhibits/Engelbart.html> The Franklin Institute of

Merit—Douglas C. Engelbart.

Saffo, Paul. "Racing Change on a Merry-Go-Round." Personal Computing,

May 25, 1990.

Weiss, Ann E. Virtual Reality: A Door to Cyberspace. Twenty-First Century Books

(a division of Henry Holt and Company), 1996.

<http://www.csl.sri.com/augmentation.html> CSL History: Engelbart.

Ransdell, Eric. "The Man Who Sees the Future." U.S. News and World Report,

May 20, 1996.

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