I was saddened today to hear that Doug Engelbart had died. We all owe him a great debt – he had the vision of what computers could become decades before it became obvious to the Jobses and Thiels and Gateses, much less the rest of us, and did a tremendous amount of the work to make what we do today on a day-to-day basis possible. In his brief remembrance, The Death of Computing Pioneer Doug Engelbart | MIT Technology Review, Brian Bergstein says:
…what really got the soft-spoken Engelbart to light up was the idea that computing could elevate mankind by making it possible for people to collaborate from afar. He had articulated this vision since the 1950s and built key technologies for collaboration in the 1960s. Later he saw these ideas become tangible for everyday people with the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web, but still in the 2000s he was hoping to see computing’s promise fully realized, with the boosting of our “collective IQ.” Of course in that grand sweep, the mouse was just one small tool.
Everyone is familiar with Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos” – which is amazing, of course – but he continued his work on human augmentation nearly up to his death. I particularly remember a talk he gave at the 2004 Accelerating Change Conference at Stanford, which I heard as a podcast via IT Conversations. The first Accelerating Change Conferences were organized by Ray Kurzweil, before he became a household name in is own right, and it seemed fitting to me that Engelbart, the inventor of so much we take for granted today, was still on the front lines of what we might be doing in the future.