In a precursor to the dramatic presentations that Apple’s Jobs became famous for, Engelbart dazzled the industry at a San Francisco computer conference in 1968. Working from his house with a homemade modem, he used his lab’s elaborate new online system to illustrate his ideas to the audience, while his staff linked in from the lab. It was the first public demonstration of the mouse and video teleconferencing, and it prompted a standing ovation.
“Doug pioneered network computing technologies when it was not popular to do so,” Sun Microsystems’ then-CEO, Scott McNealy, said in 1997.
Even so, the mild-mannered Engelbart gave deference to his colleagues and played down the importance of his inventions, stressing instead his bigger vision of using collaboration over computers to solve the world’s problems.
“Many of those firsts came right out of the staff’s innovations – even had to be explained to me before I could understand them,” he said in a biography written by his daughter Christina. “They deserve more recognition.”
In 1997, Engelbart won the most lucrative award for American inventors, the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize.
Three years later, President Bill Clinton bestowed Engelbart with the National Medal of Technology “for creating the foundations of personal computing.”
Douglas Carl Engelbart was born Jan. 30, 1925, and grew up on a small farm near Portland, Ore. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University, taking two years off during World War II to serve as a Navy electronics and radar technician in the Philippines.
It was there that he read Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” in a Red Cross library and was inspired by Bush’s idea of a machine that would aid human cognition.
After the war, Engelbart worked as an electrical engineer for what is now NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Restless, and dreaming of computers that could change the world, Engelbart left Ames to pursue his Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley.
He earned his degree in 1955. But after joining the faculty, Engelbart was warned by a colleague that if he kept talking about his “wild ideas” he’d be an acting assistant professor forever. So he left for the research position at SRI.
In 1990, Engelbart started the Bootstrap Institute, which researches ways to advance collaboration on complex problems.<< previous 1 2 3