Trivia

Hard

Which Computer Engineer Is Best Known For Giving The Mother Of All Demos?

Steve Jobs
Douglas Engelbart
Bill Gates
Tim Berners-Lee
Doug Engelbart during his demonstration.
Doug Engelbart Institute/YouTube

Answer: Douglas Engelbart

Computer engineer, inventor, and technology luminary Douglas Engelbart is best remembered for his work in early computing interfaces and networking technology, and there is no better moment in time to encapsulate that work than the demonstration he gave on December 9, 1968—a demonstration that would come to be known as “The Mother of All Demos”. The demonstration was a showcase of the work he and his team were doing at the Augmentation Research Center Lab in SRI International and was packed with then-experimental technologies and software that we now take for granted.

In one single demonstration, Engelbart showcased the computer mouse, hypertext linking, word processing, dynamic file linking, windows, efficient navigation and command input, graphics, collaborative real-time document editing, revision control, and video conferencing, all linked together via the oN-Line System (NLS), a complete computer hardware and software system. To be clear, Engelbart gave the demonstration through the NLS system with his colleagues from his research lab at Stanford, thirty miles away. Seated in front of the audience, he was able to seamlessly communicate with his colleagues back at the home lab, show off features in real time both in front of the audience (like the computer mouse), and showcase products back at the lab.

The group of approximately one thousand computer professionals in attendance were stunned by the demonstration—justifiably so as they had never seen anything like it and the individual elements of the system like video conferencing and distributed collaboration wouldn’t be widely accessible and adopted for decades to come. To put the experience into context for a modern reader, it would be as if a group of journalists showed up at a news conference today to hear about a theoretical holographic technology, and instead of seeing some slideshows and listening to an hour-long talk about how cool it would be, the presenter, in holographic form, would just stroll out onto the stage in front of them.

If you’d like to take a peek at the demo Engelbart gave, you can watch the preserved footage courtesy of the Doug Engelbart Institute on YouTube.

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