Douglas Engelbart

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Douglas Engelbart

Douglas Engelbart in 2008
Born Douglas Carl Engelbart
January 30, 1925
Portland, Oregon
Died July 2, 2013 (aged 88)
Atherton, California
Residence Atherton, California
Citizenship United States
Nationality American
Fields Inventor
Institutions SRI International,
McDonnell Douglas,
Bootstrap Institute/Alliance,[1]
The Doug Engelbart Institute
Alma mater Oregon State College (BS)
UC Berkeley (PhD)
Doctoral advisor John R. Woodyard
Known for Computer mouse, Hypertext, Groupware, Interactive computing
Influences Vannevar Bush
Notable awards National Medal of Technology,
Lemelson-MIT Prize,
Turing Award,
Lovelace Medal,
Norbert Wiener Award for Social and Professional Responsibility,
Computer History Museum Fellow Award[2]

Douglas Carl Engelbart (January 30, 1925 – July 2, 2013) was an American inventor, and an early computer and Internet pioneer. He is best known for his work on the challenges of human/computer interaction, particularly while at his Augmentation Research Center Lab in SRI International, resulting in the invention of the computer mouse,[3] and the development of hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to graphical user interfaces.

Engelbart was a committed, vocal proponent of the development and use of computers and computer networks to help cope with the world's increasingly urgent and complex problems.[4] Engelbart embedded a set of organizing principles in his lab, which he termed "bootstrapping strategy". He designed the strategy to accelerate the rate of innovation of his lab.[5]


Early life and education

Engelbart was born in Portland, Oregon on January 30, 1925, to Carl Louis Engelbart and Gladys Charlotte Amelia Munson Engelbart. His ancestors were of German, Swedish and Norwegian descent.[6]

He was the middle of three children, with a sister Dorianne (3 years older), and a brother David (14 months younger). They lived in Portland in his early years, and moved to the countryside to Johnson Creek when he was 9 or 10, after the death of his father. He graduated from Portland's Franklin High School in 1942.[7]

Midway through his college studies at Oregon State College, near the end of World War II, he was drafted into the US Navy, serving two years as a radar technician in the Philippines. On a small island, in a tiny hut on stilts, he first read Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think", which greatly inspired him.[7] He returned to Oregon College and completed his Bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1948. While at Oregon State, he was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity.[8]

He was hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics at the Ames Research Center, where he worked through 1951.[9]

Career and accomplishments

The first prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English from Engelbart's sketches.[10]


Engelbart's career was inspired in 1951 when he was engaged to be married and realized he had no career goals beyond getting a good education and a decent job.[citation needed] Over several months he reasoned that:

  1. he would focus his career on making the world a better place;
  2. any serious effort to make the world better requires some kind of organized effort;
  3. harnessing the collective human intellect of all the people contributing to effective solutions was the key;
  4. if you could dramatically improve how we do that, you'd be boosting every effort on the planet to solve important problems — the sooner the better; and
  5. computers could be the vehicle for dramatically improving this capability.[citation needed]

In 1945, Engelbart had read with interest Vannevar Bush's article "As We May Think",[11] a call to action for making knowledge widely available as a national peacetime grand challenge. He had also read something about the recent phenomenon of computers, and from his experience as a radar technician, he knew that information could be analyzed and displayed on a screen. He envisioned intellectual workers sitting at display "working stations", flying through information space, harnessing their collective intellectual capacity to solve important problems together in much more powerful ways. Harnessing collective intellect, facilitated by interactive computers, became his life's mission at a time when computers were viewed as number crunching tools.

He enrolled in graduate school in electrical engineering at University of California, Berkeley, graduating with an Master of Science degree in 1953, and a Ph.D. in 1955.[9] As a graduate student at Berkeley he assisted in the construction of the California Digital Computer project CALDIC. His graduate work led to several patents.[12] After completing his PhD, Engelbart stayed on at Berkeley as an assistant professor to teach for a year, and left when it was clear he could not pursue his vision there. Engelbart then formed a startup company, Digital Techniques, to commercialize some of his doctorate research on storage devices, but after a year decided instead to pursue the research he had been dreaming of since 1951.


Engelbart took a position at SRI International (known then as Stanford Research Institute) in Menlo Park, California in 1957. He initially worked for Hewitt Crane on magnetic devices and miniaturization of electronics; Engelbart and Crane became lifelong friends.[citation needed] At SRI, Engelbart gradually obtained over a dozen patents (some resulting from his graduate work), and by 1962 produced a report about his vision and proposed research agenda titled Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.[13]

This led to funding from ARPA to launch his work. Engelbart recruited a research team in his new Augmentation Research Center (ARC, the lab he founded at SRI), and became the driving force behind the design and development of the oN-Line System (NLS). He and his team developed computer interface elements such as bitmapped screens, the mouse, hypertext, collaborative tools, and precursors to the graphical user interface. He conceived and developed many of his user interface ideas back in the mid-1960s, long before the personal computer revolution, at a time when most computers were inaccessible to individuals, and could only use computers through intermediaries (see batch processing), and when software tended to be written for vertical applications in proprietary systems.

Two Apple Macintosh Plus mice, 1986

Engelbart applied for a patent in 1967 and received it in 1970, for the wooden shell with two metal wheels (computer mouseU.S. Patent 3,541,541), which he had developed with Bill English, his lead engineer, a few years earlier. In the patent application it is described as an "X-Y position indicator for a display system". Engelbart later revealed that it was nicknamed the "mouse" because the tail came out the end. His group also called the on-screen cursor a "bug", but this term was not widely adopted.[14]

He never received any royalties for his mouse invention. During an interview, he says "SRI patented the mouse, but they really had no idea of its value. Some years later it was learned that they had licensed it to Apple Computer for something like $40,000."[15] Engelbart showcased the chorded keyboard and many more of his and ARC's inventions in 1968 at the so-called Mother of All Demos.[16]


Engelbart's research was funded by DARPA, and SRI's ARC became involved with the ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet. The first message on the ARPANET was sent by UCLA student programmer Charley Kline, at 10:30 p.m, on October 29, 1969, from Boelter Hall 3420.[17] Supervised by Leonard Kleinrock, Kline transmitted from the university's SDS Sigma 7 host computer to SRI's SDS 940 host computer. The message text was the word "login"; the "l" and the "o" letters were transmitted, but the system then crashed. Hence, the literal first message over the ARPANET was "lo". About an hour later, having recovered from the crash, the SDS Sigma 7 computer effected a full "login".

The first permanent ARPANET link was established on November 21, 1969, between the IMP at UCLA and the IMP at SRI. By December 5, 1969, the entire four-node network was established.[18] In addition to SRI and UCLA, UCSB, and the University of Utah were part of the original four network nodes.

ARC soon became the first Network Information Center and thus managed the directory for connections among all ARPANET nodes. ARC also published a large percentage of the early Request For Comments, an ongoing series of publications that document the evolution of ARPANET into the Internet. Although the NIC at first used NLS, it was intended to be a production service to other network users, while Engelbart continued to focus on innovative research. This inherent conflict led to establishing the NIC as its own group, led by Elizabeth J. Feinler.[19]

Anecdotal notes

Historian of science Thierry Bardini argues that Engelbart's complex personal philosophy (which drove all his research) foreshadowed the modern application of the concept of coevolution to the philosophy and use of technology.[20] Bardini points out that Engelbart was strongly influenced by the principle of linguistic relativity developed by Benjamin Lee Whorf. Where Whorf reasoned that the sophistication of a language controls the sophistication of the thoughts that can be expressed by a speaker of that language, Engelbart reasoned that the state of our current technology controls our ability to manipulate information, and that fact in turn will control our ability to develop new, improved technologies. He thus set himself to the revolutionary task of developing computer-based technologies for manipulating information directly, and also to improve individual and group processes for knowledge-work.[20]

End of research career

Engelbart slipped into relative obscurity after 1976. Several of his researchers became alienated from him and left his organization for Xerox PARC, in part due to frustration, and in part due to differing views of the future of computing. Engelbart saw the future in collaborative, networked, timeshare (client-server) computers, which younger programmers rejected in favor of the personal computer. The conflict was both technical and social: the younger programmers came from an era where centralized power was highly suspect, and personal computing was just barely on the horizon.[citation needed]

Engelbart served on the board of directors of Erhard Seminars Training (EST). Several key ARC personnel were also involved. Although EST had been recommended by other researchers, the controversial nature of EST and other social experiments reduced the morale and social cohesion of the ARC community.[20]

The 1969 Mansfield Amendment, which ended military funding of non-military research, the end of the Vietnam War, and the end of the Apollo program reduced ARC's funding from ARPA and NASA. SRI's management, which disapproved of Engelbart's approach to running the center, placed the remains of ARC under the control of artificial intelligence researcher Bertram Raphael, who negotiated the transfer of the laboratory to a company called Tymshare. Engelbart's house in Atherton, California burned down during this period, causing him and his family further problems. Tymshare took over NLS and the lab that Engelbart had founded, hired most of the lab's staff including its creator as a Senior Scientist, renamed the software Augment, and offered it as a commercial service via its new Office Automation Division. Tymshare was already somewhat familiar with NLS; back when ARC was still operational, it had experimented with its own local copy of the NLS software on a minicomputer called OFFICE-1, as part of a joint project with ARC.

At Tymshare, Engelbart soon found himself marginalized and relegated to obscurity. Operational concerns at Tymshare overrode Engelbart's desire to do further research. Various executives, first at Tymshare and later at McDonnell Douglas, which acquired Tymshare in 1984, expressed interest in his ideas, but never committed the funds or the people to further develop them. His interest inside of McDonnell Douglas was focused on the enormous knowledge management and IT requirements involved in the life cycle of an aerospace program, which served to strengthen Engelbart's resolve to motivate the information technology arena toward global interoperability and an open hyperdocument system.[21] Engelbart retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1986, determined to pursue his work free from commercial pressure.

Teaming with his daughter, Christina Engelbart, in 1988 he founded the Bootstrap Institute to coalesce his ideas into a series of three-day and half-day management seminars offered at Stanford University 1989–2000. By the early 1990s there was sufficient interest among his seminar graduates to launch a collaborative implementation of his work, and the Bootstrap Alliance was formed as a non-profit home base for this effort. Although the invasion of Iraq and subsequent recession spawned a rash of belt-tightening reorganizations which drastically redirected the efforts of their alliance partners, they continued with the management seminars, consulting, and small-scale collaborations. In the mid-1990s they were awarded some DARPA funding to develop a modern user interface to Augment, called Visual AugTerm (VAT), while participating in a larger program addressing the IT requirements of the Joint Task Force.


Since the late 1980s, prominent individuals and organizations have recognized the seminal importance of Engelbart's contributions.[22] In December 1995, at the Fourth WWW Conference in Boston, he was the first recipient of what would later become the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award. In 1997 he was awarded the Lemelson-MIT Prize of $500,000, the world's largest single prize for invention and innovation, and the ACM Turing Award. To mark the 30th anniversary of Engelbart's 1968 demo, in 1998 the Stanford Silicon Valley Archives and the Institute for the Future hosted Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution, a symposium at Stanford University's Memorial Auditorium, to honor Engelbart and his ideas.[23]

Also in 1998, ACM SIGCHI awarded Engelbart the CHI Lifetime Achievement Award.[citation needed] ACM SIGCHI later inducted Engelbart into the CHI Academy in 2002.[citation needed] Engelbart was awarded The Franklin Institute's Certificate of Merit in 1996 and the Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1999 in Computer and Cognitive Science. In early 2000 Engelbart produced, with volunteers and sponsors, what was called The Unfinished Revolution – II, also known as the Engelbart Colloquium at Stanford University, to document and publicize his work and ideas to a larger audience (live, and online).[24][25][26]

In December 2000, United States President Bill Clinton awarded Engelbart the National Medal of Technology, the United States' highest technology award.[27]

In 2001 he was awarded a British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal.

In 2005, he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for advancing the study of human-computer interaction, developing the mouse input device, and for the application of computers to improving organizational efficiency."[2]

He was honored with the Norbert Wiener Award, which is given annually by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.[citation needed] Robert X. Cringely did an hour long interview with Engelbart on December 9, 2005 in his NerdTV video podcast series.[citation needed]

On December 9, 2008, Engelbart was honored at the 40th Anniversary celebration of the 1968 "Mother of All Demos".[28] This event, produced by SRI International, was held at Memorial Auditorium at Stanford University. Speakers included several members of Engelbart's original Augmentation Research Center (ARC) team including Don Andrews, Bill Paxton, Bill English, and Jeff Rulifson, Engelbart's chief government sponsor Bob Taylor, and other pioneers of interactive computing, including Andy van Dam and Alan Kay. In addition, Christina Engelbart spoke about her father's early influences and the ongoing work of the Doug Engelbart Institute. In June 2009, the New Media Consortium recognized Engelbart as an NMC Fellow for his lifetime of achievements.[29] In 2011, Engelbart was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame.[30][31]

Engelbart received an honorary doctorate from Yale University in May 2011, their first Doctor of Engineering and Technology.[32][33][34]

Recent work and legacy

Engelbart attended Program for the Future 2010 Conference where hundreds of people convened at The Tech Museum in San Jose and online to engage in dialog about how to pursue his vision to augment collective intelligence.[35]

The most complete coverage of Engelbart's bootstrapping ideas can be found in Boosting Our Collective IQ, by Douglas C. Engelbart, 1995.[36] This includes three of Engelbart's key papers, edited into book form by Yuri Rubinsky and Christina Engelbart to commemorate the presentation of the 1995 SoftQuad Web Award to Doug Engelbart at the World Wide Web conference in Boston in December 1995. Only 2,000 softcover copies were printed, and 100 hardcover, numbered and signed by Engelbart and Tim Berners-Lee. Engelbart's book is now being republished by the Doug Engelbart Institute.

Two comprehensive histories of Engelbart's laboratory and work are in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff and A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century by Donald Neilson.[37] Other books on Engelbart and his laboratory include Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing by Thierry Bardini and The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart, by Valerie Landau and Eileen Clegg in conversation with Douglas Engelbart.[38] All four of these books are based on interviews with Engelbart as well as other contributors in his laboratory.

Engelbart was Founder Emeritus of the Doug Engelbart Institute, which he founded in 1988 with his daughter Christina Engelbart, who is Executive Director. The Institute promotes Engelbart's philosophy for boosting Collective IQ—the concept of dramatically improving how we can solve important problems together—using a strategic bootstrapping approach for accelerating our progress toward that goal.[39]

In 2005 Engelbart received a National Science Foundation grant to fund the open source HyperScope project.[40] The Hyperscope team built a browser component using Ajax and Dynamic HTML designed to replicate Augment's multiple viewing and jumping capabilities (linking within and across various documents). HyperScope is perceived as the first step of a process designed to engage a wider community in a dialogue, on development of collaborative software and services, based on Engelbart's goals and research.[original research?] The Doug Engelbart Institute is now based at SRI International.[citation needed]

Engelbart served on the Advisory Boards of the University of Santa Clara Center for Science, Technology, and Society, Foresight Institute,[27] Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, The Technology Center of Silicon Valley, and The Liquid Information Company.[41]


Engelbart had four children, Gerda, Diana, Christina and Norman with his first wife Ballard, who died in 1997 after 47 years of marriage. He remarried on January 26, 2008 to writer and producer Karen O'Leary Engelbart.[42][43] An 85th birthday celebration was held at the Tech Museum of Innovation.[44] Engelbart was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in 2007[45][46] Engelbart died at his home in Atherton, California on July 2, 2013,[47][48] due to kidney failure. He was 88 and is survived by his wife; four children from his first marriage; and nine grandchildren.[49]

See also


  1. ^ "Footnote". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  2. ^ a b "Douglas C. Engelbart". Hall of Fellows. Computer History Museum. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  3. ^ Hermida, Alfred (2001-11-05). "Mouse inventor strives for more". BBC News Online. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  4. ^ "The Unfinished Revolution II: Strategy and Means for Coping with Complex Problems". Colloquium at Stanford University. The Doug Engelbart Institute. April 2000. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  5. ^ "About an Accelerative Bootstrapping Strategy". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  6. ^ Lowood, Henry (1986-12-19). "Douglas Engelbart Interview 1". Stanford and the Silicon Valley: Oral History Interviews. Stanford University. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  7. ^ a b Dalakov, Georgi. "Biography of Douglas Engelbart". History of Computers. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  8. ^ "Citation Recipients". Sigma Phi Epsilon. p. 11. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  9. ^ a b Engelbart, Douglas. "Curriculum Vitae". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  10. ^ Edwards, Benj (2008-12-09). "The computer mouse turns 40". Macworld. Retrieved 2009-04-16.
  11. ^ "The MIT/Brown Vannevar Bush Symposium: Influence on Doug Engelbart". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  12. ^ "U.S. Patents held by Douglas C. Engelbart". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  13. ^ Engelbart, Douglas C (October 1962). "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework". SRI Summary Report AFOSR-3223, Prepared for: Director of Information Sciences, Air Force Office of Scientific Research. SRI International, hosted by The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  14. ^ English, William K; Engelbart, Douglas; Berman, Melvyn L. "Display-Selection Techniques for Text Manipulation". Stanford MouseSite. Stanford University. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  15. ^ Maisel, Andrew. "Doug Engelbart: Father of the Mouse". SuperKids. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  16. ^ Engelbart, Douglas C.; et al (1968-12-09). "SRI-ARC. A technical session presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco". NLS demo '68: The computer mouse debut (11 film reels and 6 video tapes (100 min.)). Engelbart Collection (Menlo Park, CA: Stanford University Library).
  17. ^ Savio, Jessica (2011-04-01). "Browsing history: A heritage site is being set up in Boelter Hall 3420, the room the first Internet message originated in". Daily Bruin. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  18. ^ Sutton, Chris. "Internet Began 35 Years Ago at UCLA with First Message Ever Sent Between Two Computers". Engineer. UCLA. Archived from the original on 2008-03-08.
  19. ^ "Elizabeth J. Feinler". Hall of Fame. SRI International Alumni Association. 2000. Retrieved 2013-06-13.
  20. ^ a b c Bardini, Thierry; Friedewald, Michael (2002). "Chronicle of the Death of a Laboratory: Douglas Engelbart and the Failure of the Knowledge Workshop" (PDF). History of Technology 23: 192–212.
  21. ^ "About An Open Hyperdocument System (OHS)". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  22. ^ "Honors Awarded to Doug Engelbart". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  23. ^ "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution: A Symposium at Stanford University". Stanford University Libraries. Stanford University. 1998-12-09. Retrieved 2012-06-17.
  24. ^ "Colloquium". Doug Engelbart institute.
  25. ^ "UnRev-II: Engelbart's Colloquium" (video archives). Stanford. 2000.
  26. ^ "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution Symposium" (video archives). 1998.
  27. ^ a b "Douglas Engelbart, Foresight Advisor, Is Awarded National Medal of Technology". Update 43 (Foresight Institute). 2000-12-30.
  28. ^ "Engelbart and the Dawn of Interactive Computing". SRI International. Archived from the original on 2012-01-13.
  29. ^ "Fellow award". Conference. NMC. Summer 2009.
  30. ^ Fei-Yue Wang (2011). "AI's Hall of Fame". IEEE Intelligent Systems (IEEE Computer Society) 26 (4): 5–15. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.64. edit
  31. ^ "IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders". (press release). PRWeb (Vocus). 2011-08-24. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  32. ^ "Yale Awards Honorary Degrees To Joan Didion, Martin Scorsese". Hartford Courant. 24 May 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  33. ^ "Citations for Recipients of Honorary Degrees at Yale University 2011". Yale University. 23 May 2011. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  34. ^ Burt, David; de la Bruyère, Max (23 May 2011). "University confers 2,907 degrees at 310th Commencement". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 31 March 2013.
  35. ^ "Douglas Engelbart". Corporation to Community. 2011-02-16. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  36. ^ "Engelbart Books". Doug Engelbart institute.
  37. ^ Donald Neilson (2005). A Heritage of Innovation: SRI's First Half Century. SRI International. ISBN 0974520802.
  38. ^ The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart.
  39. ^ "Augmenting Society's Collective IQ". Doug's Vision Highlights. Doug Engelbart Institute.
  40. ^ "HyperScope".
  41. ^ "Advisory Board". About Us. The Liquid Information Co. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  42. ^ "Celebrating Doug's 85th Birthday". The Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  43. ^ "Karen O'Leary, Palo Alto, Writer and Producer". Karen O'Leary Englebart. Retrieved 2011-04-14.
  44. ^ "Legends and Beginners of Science". The San Jose Mercury News. 2010-01-31.
  45. ^ "Doug Engelbart". NNDB. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  46. ^ "A Lifetime Persuit". Doug Engelbart Institute. Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  47. ^ "Doug Engelbart American inventor computing legend passes away". GigaOm. 2013-07-03. Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  48. ^ Crocker, Dave (2013-07-03). "Doug Engelbart". Retrieved 2013-07-03.
  49. ^ "Douglas Engelbart, computer visionary and inventor of the mouse, dies at 88". Washington Post. Retrieved 3 July 2013.

Further reading

External links

External media
"Collective IQ and Human Augmentation", Interview with Douglas Engelbart
Doug Engelbart featured on JCN Profiles,