Bulletin, August/September 2013

Inside ASIS&T

In Memoriam:  Douglas C. Engelbart

Douglas C. EngelbartDouglas C. Engelbart, a pioneer in the design of interactive computer environments and the inventor of the computer mouse, died at his California home in early July at the age of 88. Born in 1925 in Portland, Oregon, Engelbart was midway through his college studies at Oregon State College, near the end of World War II, when he was drafted into the United States Navy. While serving as a radar technician in the Philippines, it is said that he was in the library one day on a small island when he happened upon Vannevar Bush’s article “As We May Think.” Engelbart was fascinated with the idea of Bush’s information retrieval system called Memex. He made it his life’s work.

In 1996, ASIS&T honored Engelbart with a special award for long-term contributions to the advancement of information science and technology, particularly in recognizing “enhancement of public access to information and discovery of mechanisms for improved transfer and utilization of knowledge.” At the same ASIS&T Annual Meeting at which Engelbart received that award, he was one of seven participants on a special panel entitled Reflections on Our Future. Other panelists were moderator Chuck Davis, Indiana University; Candy Schwartz, Simmons College; Gary Marchionini, University of Maryland; Belver Griffith, Drexel University; Clifford Lynch, University of California; and Eugene Garfield, Institute for Scientific Information. The session featured these visionaries, researchers and academics looking at the state-of-the-art of information science at that time within the context of what it portended for the future of society, as well as for the information profession. An edited transcript of Engelbart’s comments is included as a feature article in this issue of the Bulletin.

Gary Marchionini wrote the following words upon hearing of Engelbart’s death.

Some of you might have heard that Doug Engelbart died on July 2. Engelbart was the father of interactive computing and the intellectual inspiration for my work over the past 30 years. In the post-WWII period he was the first to realize that computing could “augment the intellect,” and he began working to demonstrate how to achieve this vision. His 1962 paper "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework" was always required reading in my HCI seminar because not only does he lay out his vision for improving the human condition through computing but he presents ideas that led to word processing and collaborative work. Engelbart is best known for inventing the mouse and for his demo at the Joint Computer Conference in 1968 that demonstrated online networking (NLS) that included hypertext, word processing and the mouse. Through his bootstrapping institute he aimed to augment our collective intellect through collaborative technologies. Although he recognized the importance of collaborative technologies for all organizations, he was particularly interested in developing ways that professional societies, community groups and other socially responsible organizations could leverage computing to improve their impact and effect. At the 1996 ASIS&T Annual Meeting he made a plea for ASIS&T and other professional societies to increase collaboration to achieve common scholarly goals, a theme that resonated with the strong digital library movement underway at that time.

His influence on information science is paramount because he gave us a practical (tractable) path toward an ideal. Engelbart stands with Shannon, Bush and Simon as inspirations for information science. He inspired a generation of information scientists who work in HCI, HCIR and CSCW to empower and augment human capabilities. Most of all, Doug Engelbart was a kind and humble human being who would take the time to talk to young scholars, who accepted the trials as well as the blessings of life and who inspired many of us to keep our focus on why we invest so much in information and technology – to help people live productive and meaningful lives.