The story of my involvement with on-line workstations begins
in early 1951, with a vision and a life-time professional commitment.
Over thirty-four years of pursuit have created a lot of personal
history, and the object of this historical exercise, the workstation,
occupies a unique place in it.
For me, a workstation is the portal into a person's "Augmented
Knowledge Workshop" the place in which he finds the data
and tools with which he does his knowledge work, and through
which he collaborates with
similarly equipped workers. And further, I consider that the
large system of concepts, skills, knowledge, methods, etc. on
the human side of the workstation has to be taken into account,
in a balanced way, when pursuing increased human effectiveness.
really launched me years ago (early 1950s) was the thing that
the world needs: humans need to be able to do things better,
and the collective coping with complexity and urgency.
I had an interesting, steady job. And I was going to get married
and live happily ever after. And suddenly I just realized I
didn't have any more goals than that professionally. And I was
So one Saturday morning in all that stewing around it just
dawned on me. Hey, you know, the world is really complex. And
a lot of the big problems can only be dealt with collectively.
And they're getting more and more urgent and more and more complex.
And mankind's ability to cope with complexity and urgency isn't
keeping up with the degree of increase in those factors. So
here I come. I get on my white horse and I can do that for mankind.
So I somehow fit that together with a picture of computers
working interactively. Now that was the days in which the nearest
computer was on the East Coast someplace, M.I.T. or Bell Labs
or something like that.
So I'd been an electrical engineer for quite a while. I'd been
a radar technician in World War II. I'd seen what they could
do for radar displays, etc. So I knew that a computer could
punch cards or print things out. It can make whatever you want
on a screen. So it was no trouble at all to say I could have
characters and symbols and stuff on the screen.
And then I knew it could actually watch whatever you do so
I could pick up and affect what it's going to do in response
to your movement, including typing on a keyboard. And I said,
"Oh, once you get the computer support and you're interactive
and helping you think and put on the symbols, you could potentially
have a whole new symbolic language, because the language we'd
been using in the past in order to externalize our concepts
had been limited by our means of expressing it.
So when you get into graphic arts you get beautiful expressive
things, but the time and effort to make those beautiful graphics
didn't sort of match the time concept in your doing your thinking.
So what if you would be able to create a computer and it could
create all these new things? You could actually formulate a
potentially new language to
express your concepts and results of analyses, etc, that could
be a lot better matched to the way your brain really works.
So it soon comes to be that what I feel is the performance
level for individuals doing knowledge work and collectively
for organizations doing knowledge work, the potential is much
higher than we're used to thinking of. And then going after
that potential would be one of the most important things we
could do. And, for me, the whole multimedia stuff, fits in with
the world wide web orientation, goes off in that direction.
So the way of describing it in the last few years had been
I.Q." And it's something that you can sort of get an instinctive
feeling for just by the term. So you can look at any collective
body, whether it's a corporate thing, a university, a city,
company, a country, etc, and you look at: what's the collective
activity and action and results of what they're doing? So how
much does it give you a sense if you understand the environment
and the future that's there? How much does it give you a sense
that they can really pool and do an intelligent choice of things
they're going to do? And when they do make a choice, how smart
are they about formulating it, getting resources, coordinating
the resources to perfect that? How quick are they about seeing
changes in the outside world to reorient what they're doing?
But anyway there are some really bad dreams that are potentially
there. It's like saying you're in a vehicle all together and
you're not quite sure who's steering it or who has the brakes
or who's looking ahead very far or whether the headlights you
have shine far enough ahead for the speed that you're building
up. And the terrain you're going through is getting rougher
and more complex with more traps. And the brakes aren't really
coping with it, but somehow you're building up more momentum
because you're going downhill or something. So, my God, how
do we get so it's that collective-I.Q. feeling
seeing farther ahead. Having a much better sense of where you
ought to go and a much better sense of controlling it so that
you can do it a more rational, intelligent, sort
of collective entity.
Texts by Douglas Engelbart
Edited by Randall Packer
Culled from the following sources:
History and the Augmented Knowledge Workshop; Douglas Engelbart;
Demonstration of the Fall Joint Computer
by Douglas Engelbart at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art;