A Conversation with Doug Engelbart Script Sections with Research


"I confess that I am a dreamer. Someone once called me "just a dreamer." That offended me, the "just" part; being a real dreamer is hard work. It really gets hard when you start believing your dreams." - Douglas Engelbart

Section heads Mood, Message, Background & Visuals Q & A

the world pre-Doug

We will visit Bletchley Park (and the science museum in San Jose) to film Fleur being told how an early computer worked.

research: I'm OK with this for now. Done.

What we need to convey: How innovative Doug's work was: Before Doug, people could not interact with computers directly.

We need to show how alien the idea of a single person working on a computer, interactively. We need to set the scene for how revolutionary his work was.

Mood: The mood of the first sequence will be one of 'what? - it was that primitive back when he got his ideas?!"

Background: Until Doug was ready for graduate work, there was no computer at all on the Eastern seaboard. People could not interact with them directly at all.

In the forties, computers were basically big calculating machines (as were the people they were named after; 'computers', people who compute). There was no such thing as personal computing. Early computers, the way we look at computers, first appeared during the second world war. These computers were lumbering beasts; expensive and slow.

Interviewee's: Bletchley people, Harold?

Visuals: Bletchley, Colossus, historical pictures/other footage from the era, showing the colossus in use.

Q:   How did people interact with the Colossus?
A (not Doug):   They didn't really. Reams of paper were hung up here. Then all sorts of things happened and the result was printed here. (Maybe we speed up the main section?)

VO:   The transistor had just been invented and the world is slowly crawling out of the wreckage of the second world war. The sound barrier is broken by Chuck Yaeger. Polaroid cameras and holograms are invented. So is the microwave oven. We see the arrival of credit cards and the first human organ transplant takes place. But still no personal, interactive computing.

Q:   What were computers like during the 40's and 50's?
A:   Oh, when I started, there were no computers on the east coast of the united states. I had read a book called Giant Brains, which were on computers.

Enter Doug...


Doug's formative years.

research: I will be digging a bit more, but expect this to be it. Done.

What we need to convey: Where did he come from? Why did he turn out the way he did?

His innocence, curiosity, 'outsider' status and tendency to want to push/augment his abilities, as illustrated by his interest in doing tricks with his bikes.

Mood: The mood of this piece is probably one of curiosity, Fleur probing to learn more of the man behind the work. Lots of light hearted questions even though there were some negative issues when he grew up, such as poverty and no father.

Background: His rural childhood, the loss of his father, the support of his mother, his fascination playing with his Ford Model T (the start of the engineers brain) and his school years where he felt inadequate and isolated.

Douglas Engelbart was born on January 30, 1925, in Portland, Oregon. He grew up during the Great Depression on a small farm stead near Portland, Oregon. After graduating from high school in 1942, he went on to study Electrical Engineering at Oregon State University.

We learn about his early years in a farm in Oregon. There is no additional background at this point. The audio files on this site might be useful though.

Interviewee's: Brother.

Visuals: Oh, family photographs, of which we need to re-scan, as the ones we got last time got lost with the laptop. Maybe some archival stuff?

Q:   What were your early years like?
A:   We were living on a a farm in Oregon. It was in the great depression.

Q:   Did you feel that you could relate to many of the other kids?
A:   Pretty geeky childhood.

Q:   Your mother took care of the family?
A:   Yes, we had a pension, but my mother worked hard to take care of us kids. She was always cheerful though.

Q:   You started with simpler augmentation didn't you?...
A:   Bikes. I loved to do tricks with the bikes. My brother and I used to show off. This attitude may have influenced me later

Q:   But you also had the leanings of an engineer early on
A:   I got to buy a Ford model T and put it in working order. That was fun

Q:   How old were you when you lost your father? How did it affect you?
A:   I was about 14. I had no male role model.

the awakening...


finding his lifes mission.

research: OK by me for now. Done.

What we need to convey: Growing sense of mission.

Mood: The mood of the navy years section is one of inquisitiveness and a sense of a young man looking for something worthwhile

Background: We follow Doug to the Navy during the Second World War and his experience in the Philippines, where he came to be shaped intellectually and early signs of his course in life would emerge.

Setting his studies aside, he joined the Navy during World War II, serving for two years as an electronic/radar technician in the Philippines. He heard about a 'cool new unit which got to work on secret stuff'.

Doug read a self help book on how to focus his life. He reads an early book on computers; 'Giant Brains, or Machines That Think' by Edmund C Berkeley. He reads the article by Vannevar Bush which inspired him and may have given him specific ideas, but he is not sure about this as he didn't remember reading it until years after his epiphany.

As We May Think' was published by Vannevar Bush in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. The editor introduces the article: "As Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development, Dr. Vannevar Bush has coordinated the activities of some six thousand leading American scientists in the application of science to warfare. In this significant article he holds up an incentive for scientists when the fighting has ceased. He urges that men of science should then turn to the massive task of making more accessible our bewildering store of knowledge. For many years inventions have extended man's physical powers rather than the powers of his mind... Now, says Dr. Bush, instruments are at hand which, if properly developed, will give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages."

The self-help book was called 'Making the most of your life'. He read it while in the navy.

He also read a book about computers (Giant Brains, or Machines That Think by Edmund C Berkeley, Consultant in Modern Technology, 1949.) This gave him some understanding of computers. He read this book around 1950.

If you want you can listen to the audio files of his early years and navy years to get a better idea of his perspective of the time. It adds color. I will try to get around to transcribing some, but for now I have to focus on clarifying the philosophy and Augment and such for you.

After the navy years and completed his B.S. in electrical engineering in 1948, he settled contentedly on the San Francisco peninsula as an electrical engineer at NASA Ames Laboratory (forerunner of NASA).

Interviewee's: Cannot think of any.

Visuals: War footage? If we can get it without spending a fortune. If we get cheap tickets maybe we should go to the Philippines...

Also, the sea around San Francisco, which is where Doug shipped off. He shipped of from the main SF port which we need to know exactly where it is.

Q:   What was the Navy like, what affected you?
A:   The war ended the day I shipped out. Funny story here: as they shipped of they passed by SF's Chinatown. Fireworks went of. They thought 'gee, they do this on every boat that leaves?' Captain came up and announced: 'the war is over, Japan surrendered' 'one guys shouted in response "why don't we just turn around then!"'

Q:   How did the experience of living in a war torn country affect you?
A:   I saw suffering.

Q:   Your job during the war?
A:   I was drafted and heard about this secret new tech called radars... so I became a a radar engineer.

Q:   You got some reading done though
A:   yes, very few used the red cross library.

I read 'a self help book called Making The Most Of Your Life.

I read 'As we may think'

Q:   After the war?
A:   I went back to SF to finish my degree. Got a job at NASA.

All this prepared him to develop his lifes mission...

 inspiration & epiphany

His problem statement and solution.

research: Got this one wrapped up fer ya I think. Done.

What we need to convey: At the end of this section we need to feel Doug's fire and understand his problem statement and solution:

Since he was a radar engineer during the war, and he had read Giant Brains', he felt that computers can help in this pursuit by making computers interactive, by putting a keyboard and screen in front if it. That was a major breakthrough and we are feeling the shockwaves still; this is interactive computing. This is personal computing. You would no longer hand off a stack of punched cards to a technician. You would use the computer - live - yourself. The thought was ludicrous: Give what then cost multiple millions of dollars to an individual to work with? Never!

Mood: The mood of this section is initially that of frustration - a suitably worthwhile mission is not to be found, they're all too complex! And revelation - its the general complexity of important problems that's the problem!

We could show more of Doug looking at early options, not just the simple question and solution, in other words, we should emphasize the struggle more.

Background: This is the core of the story, in terms of what Doug is about. It shows his character in how he looked for a worthwhile task. It shows his knowledge through his radar work and his understanding of computers and engineering. It shows his genius in the simplicity of his solution.

From his web site: "He began to envision people sitting in front of cathode-ray-tube displays, "flying around" in an information space where they could formulate and portray their concepts in ways that could better harness sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities heretofore gone untapped. Then they would communicate and communally organize their ideas with incredible speed and flexibility. So he applied to the graduate program in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, to launch his crusade. Berkeley had a serious R&D program for developing a general-purpose digital computer, the CalDiC. There was no computer science department at that time; the closest working computer was probably with MIT's Project Whirlwind."

Against the backdrop of the start of the cold war and the full war in Korea, a vision for helping us work together to solve problems is born.

Interviewee's: Cannot think of any. Maybe a historian or something?

Visuals: This is where we will benefit from computer graphics. I will see what I can do and who to talk to. Fleur, you talk with your friend. We need to show the 'act' of putting a radar screen in front of the computer so one user could use it and communicate with others.

Old radars, computers etc. I think a visit to the tech museum in San Jose for this would make sense.

Q:   Tell me about your epiphany. What started it all?
A:   I was driving to work. Just gotten engaged. No professional goal.... Doug was driving to work the Monday morning after getting engaged in December 1950. Having got a good job and was about to get married he though- is this it? What am I going to do with my life? He then calculated the amount of professional minutes he would have for his career. Assuming he would work till he was 65. He was then 25 and taking an assumption of an average work year containing 2,000 hours a year that would make it 65-25=40 years *2,000 hours a year= 8,0000 hours of professional work or 4,800,000 minutes.

Q:   Quite a way to look at a life!
A:   I kept thinking. The first issue and question on that Monday morning was a view of this empty hallway of his career, there was no plan - which was embarrassing. So what kind of plan and objective - goals should he have: Money? Enough for raising a family yes, but he didn't find that in itself really interesting. Sometimes that morning he had a thought: I am investing a career, what kind of return would I like? What if I could maximize the value my career contributes to mankind?

Q:   That must have oriented you.
A:   Yes, I spent a couple of months crusade hunting. By February/March he had spent enough time thinking about crusades. Real crusades, not just 'lets clean up this neighborhood'. Well, you know, one thing is to think to think about is great contributions, but how have individuals changed history? Gengis Khan and Adolf Hitler come to mind. Not laudatory examples, but interesting. This didn't lead him very far. Did read a lot about Khan though that week. Other crusades like health in third world etc came to mind. I read about someone who wanted to drain swamps where natives where living and were suffering from malaria. So the swamps got drained and the mosquitoes went away. And the population went up. However... the bigger population ruined their environment and a couple of generations later they were back where they started.

Q:   But there was a light at the end of the tunnel:
A:   One Saturday it dawned on him: Boy, the world is complex, jeez, the problems are getting more complex and urgent and have to be dealt with collectively- we have to deal with them collectively.

So here came the crusade: how to deal with maximizing the improvements we could make for mankind's abilities to deal with complex, urgent problems. In the next half hour or so he really got the picture of computers and interactive displays.

He had read a book about computers (Giant Brains, or Machines That Think by Edmund C Berkeley, Consultant in Modern Technology, 1949.) and he was a radar technician in the second world war. He also had an electrical engineering degree, the engineer in him could generalize what the circuits could to etc.

The thought went like this: The radar could draw stuff on the screen for the operator, but in a limited way. Having seen the internal electronics which could provide the display for the operator, he knew that if a computer could print on a line printer electronically it would be able to produce anything you wanted on the CRT! The radar could watch the operator and do things. Jeez, the computer could watch the operator and do whatever you want on the screen: The computer could interact with the display in all sorts of flexible portrayals. It could do fast retrieval and it could do jobs for you: It could allow you to type - what we now call word processing. It could retrieve for you, submit to someone else at a distance. Distance work! Large numbers of people could be interacting with the knowledge. What a revolutionary thought- a real, feasible way to allow people from afar to work together. One could only think of explorable options about what the computer could provide for you which your typewriter cannot. The picture came easily, within half and hour once the right question had been formulated and digested.

That's the start of the big mans thoughts. What are they exactly?


What the epiphany created.

research: Ah. The big one. Still needs tightening, but it's Done until you ask more questions. I still have to go through this section properly with Doug though.

What we need to convey: His basic, simple, top level points. And how they reach into more complex issues.

Mood: The mood of this section is contemplative and well, intellectual.

Background: There is not much to tell here. His work really is simple on the top level:

  • His basic vision is to augment mankind's intellect to further our ability to collectively solve urgent, complex problems.
  • Computer systems can aid this augmentation.
  • It is not a general vision of making computers 'better'.
  • Underlying this vision is the need for continual improvement; "getting better at getting better."

Now, flowing out from this, it get s bit trickier. This is his framework, his systems for how we can go about the augmentation.

  • Tool System & Human System. Doug feels that we can use computers and other tools in many useful ways. He also cares about the human systems, such as knowledge and work practices. Putting these systems together, not just putting a person in front of a computer, is where we can get bigger payback.
  • Continual improvement: bootstrapping - using what you have to get continually better is central to the story. You know the old expression, 'lifting yourself up by your bootstraps?' that's where the thought comes from.
  • Collective Intelligence. He believes that in the same way you can consider an individual as having an IQ (measuring their adaptability in the military or business situation fx) it should be possible to measure - and improve the IQ of an organization, the collective IQ of all it's workers (as individuals and how they share information and work together). This is what he wants to augment.
  • ABC levels of activities. He looks at the activities organizations do as being in three levels, ABC:
    • A is the level of doing the work, such as answering the phone and emailing.
    • B is the level of improving the A level activity, such as installing a better email system or developing better ways to talk on the phone.
    • C is the level of improving the B level activity, such as figuring out how to improve the phone system or email systems in general, and also questioning deeper performance issues like; should we even be using email for all work communications?
  • NICs. He believes that Improvement Communities (IC's), like professional associations, should work together on the 'C' level of activity, to become Networked IC's, or NIC's.
  • Scale. Size changes things fundamentally. When you can build smaller chips you can make computers faster for example. That's good. But when you can add to the amount of information we wade through in our work lives that's not so good. This is a whole section in itself XXXX Doug, what to say?

Have a look at http://www.bootstrap.org/engelbart/hist_pix/index.jsp for pictures he uses to illustrate points with as well.

Interviewee's: Writers and historians? Maybe Jerome Glenn?

Visuals: Maybe a cool looking diagram? Maybe film this in a different style, to emphasize that we are now inside his head?

On scale, we could do some animations.

Q:   So, what is your basic philosophy?
A:   We should augment our ability to work together to solve urgent, complex problems. His basic vision is to augment mankind's intellect to further our ability to collectively solve urgent, complex problems.

Q:   What kinds of problems do you mean, specifically?
A:   I mean the kind of problems listed as the UN's Millennium Development Goals. It is not a general vision of making computers 'better'.

Q:   How central are computers to your philosophy?
A:   Computers are just a central part of the tool system. It's the combination of a tool system (computers, phones etc.) and human systems (knowledge, procedures etc.) working concert which is really powerful. It's not just about putting a person in front of a computer.

Q:   We know about IQ, but you talk about collective IQ. What is that?
A:   If individuals can have an IQ, defined here as a measurable success or lack thereof, of moving in their environment advantageously, organizations can be thought of in the same way.

Augmenting an individual is useful. Augmenting a group, an organization, is many times more powerful.

Q:    You have a very specific way of looking at how organizations operate, and how they can be improved. Within this you talk about A, B & C levels of activity. Can you explain?
A:    A is the level of doing the work, such as answering the phone and emailing. B is the level of improving the A level activity, such as installing a better email system or developing better ways to talk on the phone. C is the level of improving the B level activity, such as figuring out how to improve the phone system or email systems in general, and also questioning deeper performance issues like; should we even be using email for all work communications?

Q:   This is very involved.
A:   Yes, it is, but it's all flows from my basic philosophy of augmenting our ability to work together to solve urgent, complex problems.

Q:   But you don't think this can be done in a day, that you have all the answers, or that someone else does and it's just a matter of implementing it?
A:   No. Underlying this vision is the need for working towards continual improvement; "getting better at getting better."

Q:   But not alone...
A:   No. The way to improve is not alone. Not as individuals working alone, or even as organizations working alone. We need to be working together in networked improvement communities towards continual improvement.

Q:   What are networked improvement communities?
A:   Improvement Communities (IC's), like professional associations, should work together on the 'C' level of activity, to become Networked IC's, or NIC's.

separate section?:

Q:   Tell me how scale matters.
A:   Doug's famous people-in-a-room example of importance of scale: Would you notice if everything and everyone in a room increased by 10 times their length in each dimension? What would happen? Some would say they wouldn't notice a thing as the angles would be the same; looking at someone bigger would look the same if you yourself were bigger. But what about weight? And strength? If you make something 10 times bigger you get 1,000 times the volume (10 times in each of the three dimensions) and 1,000 the weight. But the strength? In most materials strength is dependent on the cross sectional area of the material. How much stronger does the material become? Only 100 times as strong (as you are only expanding it in two dimensions).

Big words. How did he turn it in to reality. Studies


Getting credentials and knowledge.

research: The little stories he told me (in the Q&A) is basically all this section contains. So research wise it is done.

What we need to convey: He needed to get his journeymans card. The two main points here may be how people didn't understand him and the historical events of what and where he studied etc.

Mood: The mood of this section is more story oriented. We could be showing anyone who doesn't fit and who's trying to get something done here, this is more about the person who thinks different, the geek, the artist, the outsider. It's color basically.

Background: Nothing I can think of yet.

Interviewee's: Cannot think of any.

Visuals: Location, location, location. Berkeley, SRI, early HP? Silicon valley in general?

Q:   You spent some time at Berkeley as a student?
A:    To do this kind of research he probably needed a PhD. He Applied to Stanford and Berkeley. Berkeley had a research project to build a computer called CALDIC (California Digital Computer) so that made him decide. However it never worked when he was there - it was not finished before he got his degree and left. At Berkeley he was biding time, learning about basic electromagnetic wave propagation, solid state physics, symbolic logic. Doug puts in a very nice way: I was basically getting my journeyman's card. I also got a bunch of patents - 13-14 from the PhD thesis. Doubt they were useful in the world... They had labs and courses on digital circuit design. Making adders and multipliers and arithmetic controls, watching registers. They wrote programs in machine language. By hand. And exchanged their designs with other students to debug each others work. There was talk of research projects to make assemblers and compilers, but that was not quite a reality yet. Pretty geeky days!

Q:   And as a teacher?
A:   Then he was an acting assistant professor at Berkeley. Teaching basic electrical engineering,.

Q:   And as a family man!
A:   One singular event happened- he and his wife had had 3 children. His wife got this great theory if you get your first 2 closely together there would be less sibling rivalry, but the unplanned number three came and hour later! It became a matter of teaching and bringing up the kids. 2-3 hours a day of great focus and concentration. So no more evening time for the crusade.

Q:   But Berkeley didn't last?...
A:   He made some friends in other faculty though. There was a BBQ at an economics professors. Doug helped clean up afterwards and they got talking. The economics professor wanted to know what kind of research he was planning to get started. What kind of research he'd do would be important for his career etc. Doug told him about computers and augmentation - there came a point when he didn't look very interested. He looked at Doug and said: Do you know how promotions are done at university? Doug remembers the moment well: My jaw dropped, guess I don't. It's about peer review: If you don't get papers published you won't advanced. Papers get published by peer review.Talk like this and they won't get reviews. So much for blindly looking for an academic career!

The real world


Putting the pieces together to change the world.

research: Done with this.

What we need to convey: How hard it was to get going. Similar to the last section, but getting hired at SRI was a bit of a breakthrough so that's why this section is separate. SRI is where he would be doing his work.

Mood: The mood of this episode is probably pretty light hearted.

Background: There is not much, just what's in the Q&A on the right.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was created in 1958 as the United States' response to Sputnik. This will be important later for Doug's funding and the Internet.

Initially, it was really hard to get funded for what he wanted to do. Don't forget that back in the 1950's there were very few computers around: "Four high-quality civilian experts had been enlisted by one agency as a site-visit team; brain researcher, psychologist, computer expert -- and for me it was a very enjoyable day's dialog. But the later letter from the agency informed me regretfully that [paraphrased] "... since your interesting research would require exceptionally advanced programming support, and since your Palo Alto area is so far from the centers of computer expertise, we don't think that you could staff your project adequately..."

Interviewee's: Curt Carlson. CEO of SRI.

Visuals: More SRI. His lab, which looks very different now.

Q:   So you went job hunting.
A:   Doug knocked at HP's door, who were in the instrument business at the time. They were nice and offered him a job as they liked the patents. Both Mr.. Hewlett and Mr.. Packard interviewed him. I he asked if they planned to get in to computers. The head of research said "gee Doug, not a chance".

Q:   Getting hired at SRI
A:   He settled on a research position at Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International, in 1957. This position had nothing to do with his goal. He had learnt to keep the augmentation goal quiet and talk about his PhD and patents. He thought SRI was the best place in the Bay Area. SRI had had a project with Bank Of America to build a computer to process cheques or something - it was called ERMA. All vacuum tubes. So he knew about that they had been doing this for a while and he interviewed them. He got hired. But maybe only because the guy who interviewed him, a Danish guy by the name of Torben Meisling, had been a couple of years ahead of Doug at Berkeley. He got hired on the basis of his patents. Torben warned him not to talk about the computer stuff.

Q:   Getting on at SRI
A:   It was time to bide time and build a position. Doug got in involved with Hewitt Crane. He had a project going where he invented - according to Doug it was ingenious -it was all magnetic materials, they were little ferrite little things with multiple apertures (MAD's ). It was a fair amount of work and various parties were interested. Doug invented new things and got more patents. But all the time he kept thinking ahead how I could do what I wanted to do.

getting his message out

 being heard

Writing his 1962 seminal work Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework

research: I recommend you both skim through this paper.

What we need to convey: The significance of the 62 paper; Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework

Mood: The mood of this section is probably one of concentration and dedication, as he puts his philosophy down on paper. Amid bureaucratic nonsense.

Before he got to work on his paper though a couple of projects came along which were closer to his intended direction. One of them was a project which was very very important to him and was an accident. Doug talked to air force research manager about components getting smaller. Transistors etc. So Doug suggested that he carry out a study to see what would happen if you make the components smaller - knowing that there would be more demand for computer power and the only practical ways to get faster and more powerful computers is to make the components smaller. So how could you make them smaller? Would there be any problems? What happens? His answer is covered in a separate document called, 'Scaling'. Suffice to say, the conclusion was, changing scale results not only in a quantitative difference but also in a qualitative difference. More is different.

He spent the next two years formulating a conceptual framework for a new discipline that became the guiding force for his work.

This (now seminal) paper simply and clearly states the goal of his work, to augment human intellect: By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. This is important, simply because man's problem-solving capability represents possibly the most important resource possessed by a society. The other contenders for first importance are all critically dependent for their development and use upon this resource.

Background: Hmm. Just the paper & the way it got written, plus maybe its importance.

Interviewee's: Cannot think of any.

Visuals: Maybe this should be filmed by his desk, as if he is writing it kind of? Lots of Doug thinking shots, close up of eyes, hand on mouse, using computer etc...

We need to film pages from an original print of the paper, with cover etc.

Q:   By 1959 you were making some headway though?
A:   Yes, by 1959 I had enough standing to get approval for pursuing my own research.

Q:   You finally had a chance to put together a plan. How did this come about?
A:   He hunted, he found people to support framing his work, writing it down. It was under contract prepared for the Director of Information Sciences of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research (OSR). The Directorate was run by Harold Wooster and Rowena Swanson who were in many ways the opposite of what you have come to expect of administrators, let alone military administrators. They were both highly imaginative, widely read and cultivated, and enthusiastically open to new and controversial ideas. This particular guy, Harold, was sponsoring rather far out exploratory research projects. As an example he sponsored a study on how gnats could stay in a swarm (which Doug learnt about a few months later). Doug wrote a proposal. The assistant Rowena Swanson become a real staunch supporter. She helped put in a strong vote for the project would act as Doug's agent. Her boss Wooster would put proposals he liked on one side of his desk and the ones he was dubious he'd put on the other side. One of the secretaries told Doug later that Swanson would come into the office after he'd gone and move Doug's proposal into the other pile. Ie. the favored pile. OSR paid for half the project and SRI covered the other half. Doug remembers he got a lot of real quality help from one of the SRI editors, Shirley, who got really involved in helping him with the report. Her and Rowena deserve a lot of credit for getting the paper out. The next spring, after publishing the paper, he was at MIT talking about timesharing. One of the MIT guys came up to him, very friendly, "hey gee, I read your report, very interesting, but how do you pronounce H-LAM/T?" Doug was surprised: "Hey, I never tried to pronounce it!" It showed how much Doug had been working in isolation up to this point. No active dialog. Ted Nelson later suggested "Hamlet".

Q:   Has your plan changed much?
A:   No, just expanded

Q:   What were the main points of the paper?
A:   The whole augmentation thing...

implementing it all


Vision into reality: NLS/Augment

research: I will be asking him and others for more info here. This will likely be the most flexible section as we learn more.

What we need to convey: This section covers the construction of NLS/Augment. How did it get built? Who helped? (Lick) Why? (information processing research)

Mood: At this point its easy for us to get into just a chronological listing of what happened at his lab and when. We really need to focus more on the people he worked with. What have they got to say about working with Doug?

Background: To put it into perspective: Harold funded paper. Lick got him started on the real work. Lick was opening an ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency, the same government agency which started the ARPA NET, which was the precursor to the Internet) office called IPTO (Information Processing Techniques Office). Their mandate was for advanced reach on information processing.

In 1962, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) had brought to Washington a man who made a singularly important difference in the history of computers and networks. Dr. Joseph C. R. Licklieder (always called Lick ) came from Harvard, via the Cambridge consulting firm of Bolt Baranek and Newman (big on early ARPANET/Internet work), with an unusually open charter to foster research associated with the theme on which he himself had previously published, "Man-Computer Symbiosis." and toward the technology necessary to do "time sharing" of a computer's processing power between a number of concurrently active online users.

When J. C. R. Licklieder came to IPTO, I was figuratively standing at the door with the Conceptual Framework report and a proposal. There the unlucky fellow was, having advertised that "man computer symbiosis," computer time-sharing, man-computer interface etc. were the new directions -- how could he in reasonable consistency turn this down, even if it was way out there in Menlo Park.

Because Engelbart's published framework of 1963 and the pursuits proposed therein were so much on line with his, Licklieder began steering funds to him despite voiced misgivings of some of his colleagues -- something that came into the open some years later from unguarded chatter by some of them at a cocktail party. "Nothing personal, you understand," it's just that "way out there in Palo Alto, there isn't the computer and programming talent to justify investing good R&D dollars." The year before, a proposal made to a government funding agency had been turned down in almost those exact words in spite of being rated as "a very interesting proposal."

The first 2 years were flops. The 1st year SRI managers were really concerned about the publication about the 62 report: "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework" It seemed arty fartsy blue sky stuff with no reality. Still, money from ARPA came for this and they put a 'more experienced guy' in charge. Doug got a promotion to be Senior Research Engineer. But the job would be done by the project leader. Doug was out of the loop. The other guy was in control. Doug protested. Helplessly and frustrated. Doug says: I wasn't cogent enough to call Lick but he came out for a project review. He asked me what it was all about. He said 'god damn it, this stuff is so bad if my boss found out he'd fire me!' So I explained and he called them, he said more money would be sent, but don't do that again. 2nd year Lick wanted Doug to go ahead with an idea of an augmentation system at SRI where he wanted Doug to program a client program on a small computer and a little CRT display. The display could show letters etc. but it was supposed to work through a modem with a time sharing computer at LA who he was already supporting to be time shared.Doug's group was amongst the first groups to be time shared. But it only lasted for about 3-5 minutes before crashing. So the second year didn't mature much either But Lick kept going. In the third year Doug said we'd like to have our our own computer which would be big enough to run our own real time system. A CDC 3100 arrived. It was a real boon to have a machine. They needed a display for that so they built their own. It cost $80-90,000. In those days there was no way you could have enough high speed memory to store the bit map of the display. You couldn't store it and have it operate fast enough, so they had to build the electronics for it as well. It would have to move the beam into position and turn it on and move it around to display the characters. It could only do upper case characters. They used this for 4 years or so. BTW, upper case was indicated by a bar over the character. As Doug says: This was the best we could do for a ton of money, you can then see how people said it would be crazy to spend this on individuals, but we said it wouldn't stay that way for long...

Lick was willing to put some more support into the direct goal (more or less as originally proposed), but the support level he could offer wasn't enough to pay for both a small research staff and some interactive computer support. Mind you, the CDC 160A, which was the only commercially suitable mini-computer that we knew of, even though having only 8K of 12-bit words, and running at about 6 microseconds per instruction, cost well over $100K (1963 dollars). Paper tape in and out; if the system crashed, you had to load the application program from paper tape, and the most recent dump of your working file (paper tape), before you could continue. A crude, industry-standard Flexowriter (online typewriter) could be driven; otherwise it was paper-tape in and out.

What saved my program from extinction then was arrival of an out-of-the-blue support offer from Bob Taylor who at that time was a psychologist working at NASA Headquarters (then in Washington, D.C.)(Later, Taylor moved to ARPA and became a significant factor in launching the ARPANet.). I had visited him months before, leaving copies of the Framework report and our proposal, and I had been unaware that meanwhile he had been seeking funds and a contracting channel to provide some support. The combined ARPA and NASA support enabled us to equip ourselves and begin developing Version 1 of what evolved into the NLS and AUGMENT systems.

That started a project to experiment and evaluate various available "screen selection" devices -- pointers -- to see which would be most appropriate for use in on-line computer interaction. Engelbart proposed the research, and was listed as the Principle Investigator, but it was his friend Bill English, an extremely effective engineer and organizer, who put together the tests and analyses which yielded the effective results. Engelbart had thought of the basic idea for the computer mouse several years before and, almost incidental to this, suggested with a few simple sketches that maybe building and testing this kind of a device would help round out the experiments. So, Bill built it, and some unknown person in the small group of designer, programmer, machinist, test subjects -- no one can remember who -- started referring to it as the mouse . And it just happened to win the tests; and people on the project began building and using them throughout the following fifteen years.   

The Augmentation Research Center was developing the kind of technology that Engelbart believed would be required to augment human intellect, and to support the bootstrapping/augmentation process as well. Throughout the '60s and '70s, the lab pioneered an elaborate hypermedia-groupware system called NLS (for oN-Line System) most of whose now-common features were conceived of, fully integrated and in everyday operational use, by the early 1970s. Among the Augmentation Research Center's Pioneering "Firsts": the mouse, 2-dimensional display editing, in-file object addressing, linking, hypermedia, outline processing, flexible view control, multiple windows, cross-file editing, integrated hypermedia email, hypermedia publishing, document version control, shared-screen teleconferencing , computer-aided meetings, formatting directives, context-sensitive help, distributed client-server architecture, uniform command syntax , universal "user interface" front-end module, multi-tool integration, grammar-driven command language interpreter , protocols for virtual terminals , remote procedure call protocols, compileable "Command Meta Language" Said Doug Engelbart, "Many of those firsts came right out of the staff's innovations -- even had to be explained to me before I could understand them. They deserve more recognition."

Color: He was then working at a teletype at home, which makes a punched-tape record of all that is typed. Codes embedded anywhere in the text could cause the later "batch" process to correct any previous error or omission, including those in any prior commands. He made himself write most of that report this way. And his wife made him move out into the garage to do it because the Model-33 was so noisy. He remembers the extra problem of typing with cold fingers.

Interviewee's: There is Bill English who was Doug's Doer, whom we have not reached yet, as well as his wife who was Doug's secretary. Bob Taylor?

Jeff Rulifson helped Doug a lot and he's signed up. he is also in the actual demo.

Beyond that, we're looking to see who we can get.

I found some photographs on the web as well. We need to try to get permissions.

Visuals: Locations again.

Q:   You got a mentor and supporter helping you fund the actual building of NLS/Augment?
A:   I discovered Licklieder's paper Man-Computer Symbiosis from 1960. It was thrilling. On the surface there was so much parallel to mine. Doug learnt he had been lured into the Department of Defenses Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to start up and head a new division IPTO- The Information Processing Techniques Office. Doug sent him a proposal to his ARPA office. He got pretty quick success. Doug didn't know it then but Lick's colleagues thought it was a big risk project. A year earlier the National Institute of Health had turned them down. They interviewed them but sent them a letter saying interesting, but you are way out there in Palo Alto where there are no computer programmers!

Q:   Bill English arrives.
A:   Then Bill English came to work with Doug at the beginning of 1964. He had gotten his M.S. at Stanford in 62, in engineering. A very energetic and competent engineer. Very bright, very active. He complemented Doug and provided things Doug wasn't good at. Doug had his right hand man, his doer.

Q:   Jeff arrives.
A:   Jeff helps with the demo

Q:   More people arrive.
A:   Talk about the team in general

Q:   What was the atmosphere like.
A:   Hippies...

Q:   Tell me how the mouse was invented!
A:   One thing we did with this was I could get a special research grant from NASA we need to have screen selection so we got NASA to set up the research money to test how to get screen selection. Which way would be best? There were lots of ideas so I said lets experiment. Bill sat up and ran the project, testing various devices. We published a paper on it. One of the first things we did was to run a lot of tests. We got some secretaries who all knew how to type. I looked at all these devices and thought 'gee is that all' so I remembered a sketch I had in a little notebook so I gave it to Bill to build and he did. I couldn't have done it without Bill, but the patent attorney didn't agree with me in wanting bill to share the patent.

Q:   So by the mid 60's things were going well!
A:   In 1965 they showed real time movie of NLS to ARPA IPTO Principal Investigators at their meeting at MIT. Simple, structure-text manipulations, with very fast concurrent control (mouse and keyset), and very fast computer response (stand-alone CDC-3100). Illustrated the basic difference in perspective between our approach and the prevailing concepts of "time-shared computer support." At that evening's cocktail hour, Bob Taylor told me, "The trouble with you, Doug, is that you don't think big enough."

sweat, tears, determination. Which give us 1968...


Changing the world.

research: Hardly started. Will go through Jeff comments etc for a timeline and outline. Oh yes, the book, I got to get the book on Doug in here.

 What we need to convey: What was it? How did it come about? What was shown, who were inspired by it?

Mood: The mood of this one has to be positive, up-beat and in a way, a bit reverential - the audience is about to see what this whole thing has been leading up to.

Background: The decades' hard work culminates in the big demo. During the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference (a semi-annual joint meeting of the then major computing societies) held in San Francisco. At a special session, Engelbart, operated his system from the stage through a home-made modem, and used the system (called NLS at the time, for oNLine System) to outline and then concretely illustrate his ideas to the audience while members of his staff (with their faces shown on the screen) linked in from his lab at SRI. A standing ovation concluded this "mother of all demos," the first public demonstration of the computer mouse, of hypermedia, and of on-screen video teleconferencing.   It was a spectacular success influencing a generation of computer scientists.

This is a very lively and upbeat section, with many of the pioneers talking about what they did (if we get them, we have Jeff and may get Bill English). We will see the original places and systems they worked on. The 1968 demo will be shown in part and the way the system worked will be shown graphically.

The system by 1968: NLS by now had a full set of basic features that have since characterized it and AUGMENT (its commercial successor). E.g.: full-screen, integrated outline and text processing; in-file addressing; in-file and cross-file text or structure manipulation by address; basic repertoire of view-control commands; content filtering; generalized, computer-executable citation links; verb-noun, consistent command syntax with optional use of ultra-fast, concurrent control using the mouse and chord keyset; Included also was a calculator package, integrated into NLS: mouse-selecting operands; totaling columns; inserting accumulator contents at selected locations or replacing selected numbers in a file; executing user macros with pauses and prompts for users to select file variables or provided typed in values. Put together our home-designed, custom-built displays system to run with the SDS-940. Two custom-built, random-deflection display generators were each time-shared to drive six, small, 5" high-precision CRTs. In front of each of these CRTs was mounted a high-quality, video camera so as to scan the CRT face. These twelve video lines were brought out to our work area, where each work station had a high-quality video monitor for its display. This gave us four sizes of alphanumeric characters, and accelerators vector-graphic figures. The display generators were connected on a Direct Memory Access bus so that switching from one stored view to another occurred essentially in a thirtieth of a second. We came online with an improved NLS on a time-shared, SDS 940; large swapping drum; special, home-made display system operating from direct-memory access, providing integrated text and graphics, and delivering video to up to twelve workstations out in our laboratory.

The Demo: Made a public debut at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, December. For this event, we added another layer of new technology on top of NLS, a system that was already very complex for its day. It is worth an extra bit of description here.

Bill English and I wrote a paper for this conference describing ARC's objectives, physical laboratory, and the current features of NLS. In the Spring, when the Program Committee was considering candidate papers and organizing its sessions, I also proposed that they let us have a full hour-and-a-half session to put on a video-projected, real-time presentation. After considerable deliberation, and no less than two site visits to our lab at SRI, they consented.

It was a considerable gamble, possibly an outright misuse of research funding. I have no illusions that it could possibly have been pulled off without Bill English's genius for getting things to work. Our new display system provided us with twelve video cameras; we left about half of them working as display generators, and used the others to provide video views of people, borrowing tripods and drafting all kinds of people as camera operators and prompters.

We leased two video links to send images from SRI to the Conference Center in San Francisco -- a direct distance of about 30 miles. It required temporarily mounting four pairs of dishes -- two atop our SRI building, two atop the Conference hall, and four on a truck parked on top of a relay mountain. We procured some video-lab equipment: frame splitters, switches, faders, and mixers. We made special electronics to get our mouse and other terminal signals from the podium to the 940 at SRI.

It required a special video projector, whose rental included a specialist from New York to set it up and operate it. He proved invaluable in making other things work that day, too. Two cameras were mounted on the stage where I sat at the special work station (which the Herman Miller Company had made for us, and donated).

I was on-stage as anchor man during the continuous, 90-minute presentation, and Bill sat in the canvas-enclosed, raised booth at the back of the auditorium, directing the participants according the the script that I had prepared. People in our laboratory had key roles, and Bill coordinated us all via a voice intercom; while he also did the switching and mixing and frame splitting to put together the projected images.

During that 90 minutes, we used the projected display images (composite text & graphics) both to present agendas and descriptive portrayals, and also to demonstrate what NLS could do and how we applied it to our planning, documenting, source-code development, business management, and document retrieval.

The same year, 1968, Intel was founded. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated. A year later people would land on the moon. Heady days. Hippies with counter-culture & revolution, technology and the promise of progress. We will leave the third episode quite excited; so this is how it came about; a man and his team built the mouse, hypertext, windows and all that against the odds of an establishment who saw computers as big old calculating machines. The real revolutionaries of the sixties were not the hippies protesting, the people building the technology which would change our world.

Interviewee's: Cannot think of any other than the same guys from the previous section, other than someone who was there?... All daughters were there. Andy van dam who did hypertext as well, he wants to talk with us. Will research.

Visuals: The demo. Maybe the demo hall? City conference center downtown. Can't find out where it was on the net. Doug doesn't remember. He says I will have to ask Bill.

Q:   The 1968 demo changed so much. How did it come about?
A:   We got some funding...

wow, what a demo! What was augment like?

 the system : Augment

Doug's original system, NLS, later renamed Augment is where his innovations became real. There are still aspects of the system which are not in general use.

research: Just scratching the surface. Will add examples. I will also write some suggested VO for Fleur to introduce aspects of Augment.

 What we need to convey: The basic logic of how the system works. Showing how powerful it is.

Mood: The mood of this section should be one of 'hey, this is pretty cool!'.

Background: Augment:

  • Features of Doug's system Augment:
  • Full sentence interaction which means being able to give commands to the computer as we would while speaking; in full sentences such as ' scroll down to the third paragraph and follow the link in that paragraph'. Full sentence interaction includes verbs (actions) and nouns (which to do the actions to/with) as well as modifiers and even timing. These sentences can then be saved and used in conjunction with others in the future.
    • demo -Actual and enhanced screen grabs of Augment with commentary will be shown.
  • Addressing & Jumping will be demonstrated with an analogy of current HyperText and real world mail.
    • 'walk through' -A person following the hypertext way is shown posting a packet. When using Augment style relative addressing, the person is shown able to give relative, impromptu directions such as; "Turn left at the white building and walk to blocks".
  • Reader-driven dynamic hypertext will be demonstrated, where the reader may navigate text in much freer ways than we can today, jumping around based on any criteria, not just pre-programmed links.
    • demo - Hypertext with the visual quality of a newspaper will be shown manipulated dynamically.
  • Issues which we regard as relatively new in our Internet-networked world: version control and being able to ascertain the authority of documents has also been solved by Doug from the very beginning. His world has always been a networked one. An example of this is his 'Journal' which is simply a repository, a database, which users may add to, but never modify. So if you have 'published' a document to the 'Journal' you many update it, but not change the original. This way other users will always be able to refer to a specific version of the document.
    • simple mention - This may not need a larger demo than being mentioned by the by.
    • multi-level UI - Supporting the rise of skilled users will be multiple levels of user Interface. This concept will be shown to support users comfortable entry into using a system, as many 'ease-of-use' advocates work for, but also allowing users to achieve a much higher level of skill.


Interviewee's: Same as last two sections.

Visuals: Screen captures. Showing Doug demoing to Fleur.

Q:   How does Augment work?
A:   Well...

Q:   How do links work in Augment?
A:   The issue is how the user can move around. To allow movement, we rely on addressing and jumping.

Q:   Tell me about how the command language works?
A:   It's not tricky. It's not like UNIX or even DOS. You only need to remember a small set of initial commands to use the system proficiently. It is much more powerful though. With icons on the screen you can only request a single command at a time. With the command language you can write more involved commands....

>> Add examples!!!

Q:   What's my email address?
A:   [Doug doesn't even look at the screen while clicking away] It's fleur@invisible
Q:   How did you find it out so quickly?
A:   Well I did this and that.

He had changed the world. Would success come?

the bad years - between success and today

Going out of fashion. In the seventies the idea of making computers easy to use for non-computer people took hold and Doug's ideas were seen as too corporate, too technical. Too hard for the average person.

research: Done. Not a big one for us.

What we need to convey: How complete was his removal from the active field of work.

Mood: The mood of this one has be not too negative, more like 'Oh well, this had to happen and is good in some ways, but can we please also do it Doug's way' to put words in his mouth.

Background: In 1971 XEROX PARC opened its doors and promised research opportunities of making computers easy to use, making the secretary the important user. Doug's team left him almost overnight. 'Ease-of-use' became fashionable. The focus became on the the user who had 'better' things to do than play with the machine. That was the end for Doug's active work. The seventies and eighties zipped by in our story: Doug looses his team. XEROX PARC develop some neat stuff. Steve Jobs comes by their lab. Build the Mac. Bill Gates makes Windows. So now we all use computers. Pocket Calculators are introduced. Pioneer 10 swings by Jupiter. The seventies see advances in the big and the small. The movie 'Star Wars' comes out - science fiction is popular. But the work of supporting computer users to be as powerful as possible is put on hold.

Interviewee's: Bruce Horn maybe? Steve Wozniak. I emailed him.

Visuals: Locations. Apple, XEROX etc. Lots of shiny Silicon Valley shots.

Q:   What was it like after the demo?
A:   Being de-funded, fired and house burning down

Q:   After all that, what makes you tick, what keeps you going?
A:   I feel like I have climbed a mountain and seen a future....

Q:   What are some of your concerns?
A:   He mirrors Vannevar Bush, easy to add information to our general pool, hard to access.

Q:   What are you doing now?
A:   HyperScope etc.

But what about the future? What's next?

today & the future

Where should we go from here?

Note: maybe we should film this one first? Then again at the end?

research: This is a biggie without many constraints. Help! What should I research?

What we need to convey: How he reflects on the challenges and how he believes we should move forward.

Mood: The mood of this one has to be positive.

Background: The main things here is how amazingly far things have moved. And the changes are only getting quicker...

Jerome Glenn at the UN and others can help frame the current issues which concern Doug. He can point out how Doug's work can help us with the environment, the economy, health and politics.

A dialog with Doug and Noam Chomsky will further reinforce the issues of computers not really helping us work and think. (unlikely we will be able to make this happen soon though)

On the problems: This year, one company shipped half a billion mice. As of 2003, there are around 800 million people on the internet. A modern computer can complete a calculation in less time than it takes the light from the screen to reach your eyeball.

"More information has been produced in the 30 years since Doug's demo than in the previous 5,000 years. About 1,000 books are published internationally every day, and the total of all printed knowledge doubles every eight years," according to Peter Large in Information Anxiety. "The world produces between 1 and 2 exabytes of unique information per year, which is roughly 250 megabytes for every man, woman, and child on earth. An exabyte is a billion Gigabytes. Printed documents of all kinds comprise only .003% of the total. Magnetic storage is by far the largest medium for storing information and is the most rapidly growing, with shipped hard drive capacity doubling every year. Magnetic storage is rapidly becoming the universal medium for information storage" (Berkeley).

On the solutions: One of the projects Doug is working on now is something he calls a HyperScope which will make the web more interactive. We may illustrate this with a short HyperScope segment.

An awesome achievement - few people have changed our lives as profoundly. We will also share some of Doug's frustration of what could have been. But finally, when the credits roll, we will also understand what can be done, and how. We will have seen the future. Afghanistan comes online. One company, Logitech, ships it's half billionth mouse. The secrets of the human genes start to be unraveled. It feels like everyone and everything is becoming digital - and that we need a strategy to cope with this tsunami of information. We need to figure out how to use the technology to work together to solve ever more complex and ever more urgent problems. And Doug is there to show us the way. Like he did a generation ago.

Interviewee's: Bruce Horn, IBM's Jim Spohrer, UN's Jeromy Glenn, Howard, Ted Nelson, Paul Saffo and more

Visuals: More shiny Silicon Valley. IBM labs. Nature.

Doug and Fleur will take some time for quiet intimate dialogue. She'll ask Doug if he's happy - he's changed our lives so profoundly. He's changed the world. He's famous of sorts, he invented the mouse and all. He'll say he is not, there is so much more to be done.

Fleur will counter that computers are so much more powerful now, to which he will counter that computers are actually less powerful now as far as the user is concerned. He'll show us that he still works every day with the system he designed 30 years ago. Fleur will ask him to get specific and Doug explain Bootstrapping - making tools to make better tools with. And the concept of networked improvement communities. His philosophy will come together as a coherent whole to inspire us. He's not a just a dreamer. He's got specific recommendations, specific plans.

Q:   What are your wishes for the future?
A:   collaboration,

Q:   Are you happy? You've changed our lives forever?
A:   Well... not really, though sometimes.

Q:   But computers are so much more powerful now...
A:   not as far as helping the user is concerned. He will cite a few reasons and demonstrate how his system can do more with less effort on than modern Mac or Windows, referring back to icons vs command sentences etc.

Q:   You don't pretend you have all the answers do, you, you're offering a useful approach to finding them?
A:   Yes. Bootstrap and getting better at getting better.

Q:   What have we got left to do?
A:   Oh... a whole lot

Q:   What good developments do you see?
A:   Well...

Q:   What advice do you have for the augmenters of today, of tomorrow?
A:   Learn to collaborate. Extend your capabilities. And continue!