History Of The Vision


Crusade Hunting


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 til 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. And he 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? This started orientating him.

So he 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.





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. This was 1951.

You see 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.


The concept of interactive computing was born in his mind. This basic picture never changed.


Implementing the vision all presented lots of practical problems. It took 11-14 years to get a chance to tie displays to screens and start doing things with them.


Copyright 2002 Doug Engelbart & Frode Hegland