Foresight Advisor Doug Engelbart, 1925-2013, will be greatly missed

Douglas Engelbart in 2008
Douglas Engelbart in 2008

It is with great sadness that Foresight acknowledges the passing of Foresight Advisor Doug Engelbart, Ph.D. (1925-2013), a visionary technologist whose early inventions led to today’s Information Revolution. From his NY Times obituary “Douglas C. Engelbart, Inventor of the Computer Mouse, Dies at 88” by John Markoff:

Douglas C. Engelbart, a visionary scientist whose singular epiphany in 1950 about technology’s potential to expand human intelligence led to a host of inventions — among them the computer mouse — that became the basis for both the Internet and the modern personal computer, died on Tuesday at his home in Atherton, Calif. He was 88. …

Beginning in the 1950s, when computing was in its infancy, Dr. Engelbart set out to show that progress in science and engineering could be greatly accelerated if researchers, working in small groups, shared computing power. He called the approach “bootstrapping” and believed it would raise what he called their “collective IQ.” …

In a single stroke he had what might be called a complete vision of the information age. He saw himself sitting in front of a large computer screen full of different symbols, a vision most likely derived from his work on radar consoles while in the Navy after World War II. The screen, he thought, would serve as a display for a workstation that would organize all the information and communications for a given project.…

Dr. Engelbart was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-MIT Prize and the Turing Award, among others honors.…

Dr. Engelbart’s inventions were part of his long=term goal of “Boosting mankind’s capability for coping with complex, urgent problems“:

The Doug Engelbart Institute was founded by Doug Engelbart with daughter Christina Engelbart to further his lifelong career goal of boosting our collective capability to solve important problems intelligently, for which he coined the term Collective IQ.

We recognize that the opportunities, problems, and challenges we face – whether business, social, political, economic, environment – are increasing exponentially on a global scale, so finding exponentially more powerful ways to collectively address important challenges is critical;

This is both a dire threat and a golden opportunity – companies, initiatives, regions, nations that kick into gear on this soonest will likely surpass those that don’t in leaps and bounds.

The sooner we reach critical mass as a planet, the better off we all are, and thus there is tremendous value in sharing best practices, and in addressing this collectively as a Grand Challenge.

Dr. Engelbart served on Foresight’s Board of Advisors since 1997. He was particularly interested in assisting Foresight in our goal of speeding the positive impacts of new technologies while preventing negative uses, and joined us in advocating online hypertext-based discussion and argumentation systems for exploring and projecting coming technological applications. His vision and faith in the ability of human intelligence to master humanity’s exponentially growing problems will be sorely missed.
—James Lewis, PhD

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