How Doug Engelbart pulled off the Mother of all Demos

Doug Engelbart was the first to actually build a computer that might seem familiar to us, today. He came to Silicon Valley after a stint in the Navy as a radar technician during World War II. Engelbart was, in his own estimation, a “naive drifter”, but something about the Valley inspired him to think big. Engelbart’s idea was that computers of the future should be optimized for human needs – communication and collaboration. Computers, he reasoned, should have keyboards and screens instead of punch cards and printouts. They should augment rather than replace the human intellect. And so he pulled a team together and built a working prototype: the oN‑Line System. Unlike earlier efforts, the NLS wasn’t a military supercalculator. It was a general‑purpose tool designed to help knowledge workers perform better and faster, and that was a controversial idea. Letting non-engineers interact directly with a computer was seen as harebrained, utopian – subversive, even. And then people saw the demo.

Engelbart is one of the greatest visionaries of this industry.

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