History of the First Augmentation Research Center (ARC)


Berkeley - Gaining Credibility

Doug assumed he had to learn about computers. He had been out of college for three years and was due to be married.

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.

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!

The idea of individuals using interactive computers was ludicrous at the time.


For his masters thesis he got an idea: ...When a digital drum rotated it would get successive cells along a track and so you addressed it by what track and cell the speed of the computer was then tied to the speed of the drum rotation. (it spins at a constant speed, counts to when it'll be the right cell) I realized that I could improve on it. Mix of hardware and software....

He got his masters in 1952, which was actually called an Engineers Degree.

This might have given him a better feeling for how programmers have to do things but it could have been better spent I think.

PhD & Patents

So for his PhD thesis he did something acceptable. In 1955 he got his PhD in Electrical Engineering (with specialty in computers) through work on bi-stable gaseous plasma digital devices at UC Berkeley.

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...

Teaching, kids & BBQ

Then he was an acting assistant professor at Berkeley. Teaching basic electrical engineering,. 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.

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!


HP - Quick Detour

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".



SRI - Gaining A Foothold

He settled on a research position at Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International, in 1957. 

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.

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.


By 1959 he had enough standing to get approval for pursuing his own research. He spent the next two years formulating a conceptual framework for a new discipline that became the guiding force for his 1962 seminal work, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework," under contract prepared for the Director of Information Sciences of the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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?

Lets just consider the scaling issue for a while.


The Business Of Scaling environment & tools

The underlying thing is this: If you change the physical scale of some device, making it 1/100th the size of what it was, you cannot assume it will work. A lot of factors change so you have to sit down and re-design the whole thing.

It is the same with scaling an aircraft up in a wind tunnel. It definitively won't work. The aeronautical guys learnt this way back in school and told him about this. They told him about something called dimensionless numbers. Every measurement generally has dimensions, kg, miles, etc. so there's this amazing thing that if you take all the numbers which are significant you can arrange them in a way so all the dimensions cancel, and you get a dimensionless number, if this works, you can then depend on the numbers. Very mysterious.

A the Solid State Conference 1959 Doug was going to talk to them about the effects of scaling electronic components. He said if you change the scale you get surprises. He was met with looks of disbelief. They were engineers and physicists, how could he possibly lecture them?

Scaling people.

So he said would you notice if everything and everyone here increased by 10 in each dimension? What would happen?

Many said they wouldn't notice a thing as the angles would be the same; looking at someone bigger would look the same if you yourself was 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).

Let me go into that a bit more: If you look at strength as how much force you can exert by, lets say, stretching a cylinder of a given material before it breaks. Fair measurement? Then you will notice that you have the same pressure at every point pulling the cylinder apart. Or you can think of it as a rope, or anything you can picture stretching. At every point where the cylinder is stretched - a force is applied - in the direction of the force, so that only leaves two dimensions for strenght. A little weird but everyone happy with that?

So for scaling a person- you, you've be 1,000 heavier but only 100 stronger. There becomes a difference of a factor of ten between weight and strength.

That is the same as if you were 10 times heavier right now without the increase in size (normal human is about 70kg - so imagine 700kg), and had the same (muscular and skeletal) strength. You may not even be able to sit on a chair. You could fall, and break bones.

So the Solid State people started to listen to the significance of scale changes.

In the world of electronics there'd be issues too, just like there would be if we were scaled. You could have trouble if you expected the device to work the same at this scale - the temperature and so on is also affected.

The scale of change of the tools out there... wow the impact. it will start changes...

The scale of the rate of change is also a scaling factor. If it becomes too fast we will not be able to integrate it into society.

Doug puts it this way: The only thing we can help protect yourself with is if we get collectively smarter. It' not just interesting, it's a matter of the survival of humanity. 




Framing the vision - The 62 Paper

In 1962 Doug wrote the paper which would come to frame the vision and orient the future work. It was titled "AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT : A Conceptual Framework.

It 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.

His work was to be developing means to augment the human intellect. These "means" can include many things--all of which appear to be but extensions of means developed and used in the past to help man apply his native sensory, mental, and motor capabilities-- and we consider the whole system of a human and his augmentation means as a proper field of search for practical possibilities. It is a very important system to our society, and like most systems its performance can best be improved by considering the whole as a set of interacting components rather than by considering the components in isolation.

So the job then become a matter of finding the factors that limit the effectiveness of the individual's basic information-handling capabilities in meeting the various needs of society for problem solving in its most general sense; and to develop new techniques, procedures, and systems that will better match these basic capabilities to the needs' problems, and progress of society.

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.

This is where he stands. He wrote his mission statement in 1962. It's a great paper. Only very little of the specific technology references are dated.



Licklieder & Funding

Doug discovered Licks paper Man-Computer Symbiosis from 1960. It was thrilling. On the surface there was so much parallel to his. I 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 Licks 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!

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. We set it up in a room and it had about six platters (1 1/2' dia). 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...

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.

Doug tells of how the mouse came about: 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.

1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, San Francisco, CA, December, has since become known as "The Mother of All Demos." That was where Doug first showed NLS to the world In a remarkable 90-minute multimedia presentation, Doug used NLS to outline and illustrate his points, while others of his staff linked in from his lab at SRI to demonstrate key features of the system.

This was the world debut of the mouse, hypermedia, and on-screen video teleconferencing.


A Few Notes on SRI ARC

ARC got its name after the 68 conference. They basically needed a name, but the group prior to the 68 conference was also, for all intents and purposes an ARC.

How did he orient the ARC team to share the vision? I asked him: Some was easy some was difficult and some was something I didn't know how to do. There were people in there who didn't agree. Some stayed and shut up, some left. Not the most helpful answer.

However, what is interesting is this. He wrote proposals and then they had to build it. Doug: Sometimes I had to back off. sometimes I hoped 25% of what I hoped for would be the best I could do. I kept talking.

What kind of philosophy/attitude/culture was instilled? The whole idea of augmentation was not something which could be dictated. Figuring out what and how to do things would have to evolve. Augmentation research (which is going on in a world of the rapid change we discussed earlier) would have to be dealt with through continuous, facilitated evolution.

Doug says, as an example of the evolution: I tried to get something like a journal -1 guy worked for a year and got it working so we had a journal to help the dialog. we could publish to it and the document would always stay there and we could citation link. there are about 8 of them now. we lost some of the records during some transitions, but a lot of it is still there. 1/4 million entries in the augment journal fx.

Did he use any specific methodologies? No says Doug. I wish I did. I was always naive, I was always a not very well organized guy who didn't understand management.

As far as what was a critical factors to get the ARC started and to keep it going was of course money. They developed more and more organized sources as ARPA, NASA, a bit of work was done for the CIA and the Air Force. It got organized so that all the organizations would funnel money through an Air Force lab.

A big issue with the original ARC was computer time. I had to fight for my computer time Doug says with frustration.

And the magic bullet for the ultimate interface? Nonsense question? There are lots of possibilities so the important thing is to find out ways to evolve.

AND, you need to evolve more than tools. techies tend to think they have the one big solution











Copyright 2002 Doug Engelbart & Frode Hegland