Today in History – December 8, 1968 – Doug Engelbart’s “Mother of all Demos” introduces the computer mouse, hyperlinks and window at a demonstration in San Francisco. The demonstration offered a peek at the future of computing. “No one has ever before or since seen such a collection of great ideas in one demonstration,” said SRI President and CEO Curt Carlson. Engelbart is “the Moses of computers,” writes Steven Levy in his history of the Macintosh.
In 1970, a U.S. patent was issued for the computer mouse – an “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System” (No. 3541541). Doug Engelbart’s invention changed the way humans were to work with computers. The invention transformed computers from specialized tools for technologists to user-friendly computational systems that anyone can use. Engelbart and his colleagues called this invention the “mouse,” after its long tail-like cable. The first mouse was a simple hollowed-out wooden block, with a single push button on top, designed to select and manipulate text. The “mouse” was part of a larger project called the NLS (oN Line System) based on work at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), which allowed two or more users to work on the same document from different workstations. This work built on Engelbart’s overarching visions for augmenting human intellect, improvement infrastructure, co-evolution of artifacts with social-cultural language-practices, and bootstrapping. Christina Engelbart, Doug Engelbart’s daughter and co-founder of the Bootstrap Institute, maintains an in-depth biography of Engelbart and his inventions. I was struck by the vision, passion and humbleness inherent in this quote from the site: “He remains bewildered as to why it has taken so long for society to catch up to him. “The rate at which a person can mature is directly proportional to the embarrassment he can tolerate. I have tolerated a lot,” says Engelbart of his life. Reader’s Digest paid Engelbart $35 to publish that quote, more than he was paid for many of his revolutionary inventions.” Doug Englebart was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 2000.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on Doug Engelbart and the computer mouse. For related educational resources, visit the Computer Engineering Education, the Electrical Engineering Education or the Computer Science Education disciplinary communities.