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Douglas Engelbart

Last Edit: 18/03/17

Douglas Engelbart was an American engineer, computer scientist and inventor (born 1925, died 2013) who is renowned for his 'The Mother of All Demos' in 1968. This demo showcased NLS, or the "oNLine System", which was a computer operating system that invented many fundamental elements found in modern computer systems: graphics, mouse controlled GUI, screen windows and hypertext. It was, infact, the first working example of hypertext, which was later incorporated into Gopher and the World Wide Web. A SDS 940 computer running NLS would become the second computer system / host connected to the ARPANET in 1969 -- ARPANET was the computer network that evolved into the Internet. The SDS 940 / NLS ARPANET node was located where Douglas Engelbart had created NLS: Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute (SRI International). SRI International would later become the home of the Network Information Center (NIC): an important organisation that managed parts of the namespace of the Internet, such as the Domain Name System (DNS). All these factors combined, place Douglas Engelbart as a 'godfather' or 'pioneer' of the Internet, and resulted in him being inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2014.

Douglas Engelbart
(Pictured: Douglas Engelbart)

Alongside his inventions, Engelbart also authored important papers that inspired computer scientists who worked on developing the systems of the Internet, none more influential than "Intellectual Implications of Multi-Access Computer Networks" (1970). The summary of this paper was as follows: "I think that tomorrow's institutions can be (must be) far better adapted to their environment, much better at providing for a full life style for everyone. These changes require a very significant increase in the institutions' ability to develop, support, and integrate the intellectual power of their individuals and organizations. And, as I see it, this ability will be directly dependent upon advanced application of interactive computers and multi-access computer networks. But the following condition is very strong in this "implications" picture: to harness this technology toward these ends will require intense concurrent development of our very complex and sophisticated system of concepts, conventions, methods, skills, organizational forms, attitudes, and values. It is time, and the means are at hand, to develop a much improved nervous system for our "social organisms"."

Engelbart's philosophy that 'drove' his work and inventions was a desire to make "the world a better place". Engelbart subscribed to the idea that making the world a better place would require an organized effort -- hence his interest in wide area computer networks. Engelbart is also known for observations of human performance that become known as Engelbart's law. Engelbart received over 40 honours and awards from a wide range of internationally recognised bodies and organisations -- that attest to the influence of his inventions -- that include: Internet Hall of Fame, National Medal of Technology, British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, Norbert Wiener Award, National Inventors Hall of Fame, Yuri Rubinsky Memorial Award, ACM Turing Award, Lemelson-MIT Prize, Benjamin Franklin Medal, American Innovation Award, CHI Lifetime Achievement Award, Weatherford Award, NMC Fellow Award, IEEE Life Member, Gibson Achievement Award, George R. Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award, IEEE Computer Pioneer Award, and Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier.