Ping (zestyping) wrote,
Ping
zestyping

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Engelbart's unfinished revolution.

The year is 1968. Martin Luther King has just been assassinated. Students are protesting all over the world. The radio is playing "Hey Jude", which the Beatles have just released. The cultural revolution is in full swing in China.

Astronauts and engineers at NASA are still preparing for the mission that will be called Apollo 11. They will put a man on the moon next year, but they don't know it yet.

Telephones with push-buttons are a new-fangled idea. The first heart transplant in history happened just last year. The world's first handheld calculator was introduced last year, too. It has four functions: add, subtract, multiply, and divide. It cannot take square roots.

No one has heard of Intel. Atari, Microsoft, and Apple do not exist. Unix has not been invented. In fact, microprocessors have not even been invented. Neither have RAM chips. Computers are enormous and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you are lucky, perhaps you get to share one with the rest of the students at your university. The idea of having your own computer is about as absurd as the idea of having your own passenger airplane. You've seen people program computers by plugging and unplugging hundreds of cables. But you don't get to touch the computer; you use punch cards. At night, your stack of punch cards will get processed by the computer, along with hundreds of other jobs. You'll know the results in the morning.

A young man named Douglas Engelbart has invited you to San Francisco. He says he has a new research program that he calls "augmenting the human intellect". What on earth could that mean? And he says he is going to give a computer demonstration. Is he going to go onstage with a deck of punch cards? Is he going to plug and unplug cables in front of a live audience?

To your surprise, when you arrive you see a projection screen. The face on the screen asks a question no one has ever asked before: "If, in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you had — how much value could you derive from that?"

Watch the movie.

(The above is my 6-minute edit of the highlights of Engelbart's revolutionary 1968 demonstration, in which Engelbart and his team introduced the world to interactive computing, word processing, cut and paste, outline editing, hypertext, the mouse, keyword search, shared-screen collaboration, and group online annotation. You will need DivX to watch the edited video. The entire video is available in 35 segments.)

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