One of my favorite artifacts in the museum is the first computer mouse, which is currently on display in the Silicon Valley section of Places of Invention. The prototype was invented by Douglas Engelbart and Bill English in 1964 at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), and is on loan to the museum from SRI International. The SRI team was far ahead of its time; besides the mouse, Engelbart and his colleagues developed many of the fundamental features of modern computing--including a graphical user interface (GUI), hypertext links, and collaborative, real-time editing of shared documents—decades before their commercialization and widespread use. On December 9, 1968—fifty years ago this week---Engelbart debuted these innovations in what has subsequently been hailed as “the mother of all demos.”  This post explores the motivations that led to the demo, and its singular influence on the history of computing.
Douglas Carl Engelbart (1925-2013) grew up during the Great Depression on a farm near Portland, Oregon. He was studying electrical engineering at Oregon State University in 1944 when he joined the US Navy during the height of World War II. As a radar technician, Engelbart gained his first exposure to reading and manipulating symbols on a screen. After the war, Engelbart completed his electrical engineering degree at Oregon State in 1948, then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he worked at NACA’s Ames Research Laboratory (NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, was the precursor to NASA). In 1951, Engelbart became engaged to his first wife Ballard, and at age 25, began to reconsider his life’s purpose. Like many scientists and engineers who had experienced World War II, Engelbart decided to redirect his postwar efforts toward peaceful ends, to “maximize my contribution to mankind.”  Engelbart eventually recognized that the electronic computer—invented during the war to calculate artillery firing tables and atomic bomb yields—could be re-purposed as a tool for solving the many difficult problems of the postwar world. In an interview with Wired magazine, he recalled his 1951 epiphany:
All of a sudden – wham! – I got an image of myself sitting at a big CRT [cathode ray tube] screen with all kinds of symbols on it, new and different ones, manipulated by a computer that could be operated through various input devices. All the material on the screen could be controlled with great flexibility. Other people had their display units tied to the same computer complex, and you could connect them. Everybody could share knowledge. The vision unfolded rapidly, in about a half hour, and suddenly the potential of interactive, collaborative computing became totally clear. 
Engelbart quit his NACA job and enrolled in a PhD program in electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, with hopes of pursuing his vision of interactive computing. However, during an era of room-sized mainframes, punched cards, and batch processing, his ideas were not well-received. In 1955, Engelbart completed his degree on a different research topic (“bi-stable gaseous plasma digital devices”) then languished as a visiting assistant professor at Berkeley. In October 1957, Engelbart left academia and took a job at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), a contract R&D firm near the university campus in Menlo Park, in the heart of what is now Silicon Valley. At SRI, Engelbart began to develop his vision of human-computer interaction. 
The Framework: Augmenting the Human Intellect
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the few computers that existed had mostly been used for mathematical calculations, such as numerically solving complex differential equations. However, in lieu of calculation, Engelbart proposed using computers for the augmentation of the human intellect. Engelbart knew that knowledge workers such as lawyers, academics, and engineers spent much of their workdays performing routine tasks such as looking up facts, checking bibliographic references, and plotting graphs. Engelbart believed that computers could help simplify these low-level tasks so that users could spend more time doing high-level thinking. Moreover, he believed that an assemblage of linked computers could facilitate collaboration among teams of knowledge workers, leading to better work products. In what he called a “bootstrapping” approach, Engelbart argued that users would gain in expertise and sophistication as they adapted to new cutting-edge computing technologies; the result would be the iterative “co-evolution” of both users and computers. In 1962, Engelbart published these ideas in a seminal paper titled “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.” 
Engelbart then sought the research funding necessary to build and test his ideas. In 1963, Engelbart won a grant from the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). J. C. R. Licklider, an MIT-trained psychologist, was the head of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO); like Engelbart, Licklider was interested in exploring “man-computer symbiosis.” With grants from ARPA, NASA, and the US Air Force, Engelbart established the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at SRI and began to build what he called his oNLine System, or NLS. 
The oNLine System (NLS)
Through the NLS platform, Engelbart and his colleagues developed many of the techniques of modern, interactive computing. In lieu of asynchronous, batch processing, the NLS allowed users to manipulate on-screen data directly and see the results immediately in real-time. In lieu of punched cards, the NLS featured a radar-like screen with a graphical user interface (GUI), in which users manipulated text, symbols, and video in a series of overlapping “windows.” For example, users could insert, delete, and move text within a document. Via “hypertext” links, users could also jump quickly between two related documents. The NLS also supported collaboration; when multiple NLS systems were linked together, users could work simultaneously on the same document.
Engelbart and his ARC team also experimented with different input devices. For example, they developed the “chord keyset,” an efficient five-button that complemented the standard QWERTY keyboard. The ARC team also designed and tested different selection tools to manipulate the on-screen symbols and text, including a light pen, a joystick, and a roller-ball controlled by the user’s knee. However, the most intuitive selection tool was the handheld ”mouse” – a simple wooden box with two perpendicular metal wheels, a selection button, and a wire connection to the processor. When a user rolled the mouse across the desktop, the cursor replicated its motion on the screen. According to Engelbart, no one could remember exactly who first coined the term: “It just looked like a mouse with a tail . . . [and] the name ‘mouse’ just took.” 
The Demo: December 9, 1968
By 1968, Engelbart and his SRI colleagues had built a powerful set of tools to augment the human intellect and it was time to show it off. “We took an immense risk,” recalled Engelbart, and in March “applied for a special session at the ACM/IEEE-Computer Society Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco in December 1968.”  The two professional societies—the Association for Computing Machinery and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ computer science section—granted Engelbart a 90-minute plenary session to be held in the 2,000-seat Brooks Hall. The demo “was a gamble,” Engelbart recalled, because if it flopped, he might jeopardize future research funding. But Engelbart believed that if we “could just actually demonstrate the NLS, instead of trying to talk about it, people would start to understand us.” 
The ARC team, led by Bill English, spent months assembling a custom infrastructure so that Engelbart could stand on-stage in San Francisco and demonstrate the capabilities of the NLS located 30 miles away at SRI’s offices in Menlo Park. They placed cameras in front of two NLS monitors at SRI, erected receiver dishes at the auditorium, and beamed two channels of video along a microwave link. Two more cameras in the auditorium captured Engelbart’s face and hands as they manipulated the keyboard, mouse, and chord keyset. Finally, the team rigged up a homemade 2,400 baud modem to transmit commands from Engelbart’s console in San Francisco back to Menlo Park over a leased telephone line. English used a 4-channel video controller to direct what was projected on the auditorium’s 20-foot screen; he could also split the screen and show, for example, Engelbart’s face alongside his NLS screen. Altogether, 17 ARC teammates contributed to the demo. 
December 9 arrived. Engelbart took the stage in San Francisco and sat behind his console; he later admitted that he was “nervous as hell.”  The stage lights were bright so he could not see the audience or how they might react to the presentation. Engelbart began with a provocative question: “If in your office, you, as an intellectual worker, were supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day, and was instantly responsive to every action you have—how much value could you derive from that?” He then put the NLS through its paces. He opened a new document and typed “word word word word” on the screen. “If I make some mistakes, I can back up a little bit,” Engelbart remarked as he demonstrated the delete function. Then he showed how he could copy and paste blocks of text, or drag and drop items to re-order them. 
Highlights (time: 5:35) from Engelbart’s 1968 demo, courtesy of SRI International. Click here for the full 90-minute demo, courtesy of the Doug Engelbart Institute.
Then Engelbart showed off the system’s graphical user interface. He pulled up a map of his route home from work, with planned stops at the grocery store, drug store, and library. “Library. What am I supposed to do there?” he asked. A click on the word Library—a hypertext link—pulled up another list. “Oh, I see. Overdue books.” He returned to the map and clicked on the “Drugstore” link; it led to another list with items like aspirin and chapstick. Then, via teleconference, Engelbart and Don Andrews described the operations of the chord keyset and the mouse. English then conferenced in Bill Paxton from Menlo Park to show how two NLS users could collaboratively edit the same document. Finally, in a bit of tantalizing foreshadowing, Engelbart described how SRI was poised in 1969 to become the second node of a new communications network called the ARPANet, the precursor to the internet. 
The NLS (and the demo’s elaborate technical production) had worked perfectly; Engelbart’s gamble had paid off. When the stage lights went down, a relieved Engelbart stood up from his console and saw that the audience of fellow computer scientists was “standing, cheering like crazy.” 
We now live immersed in the interactive world that Engelbart invented, so to 21st century eyes, his 1968 demo may seem unimpressive, even primitive. However, at the time it was revolutionary and far ahead of its time. In 90 minutes, Engelbart and his team had debuted the mouse and showcased interactive real-time computing; the graphical user interface; hypertext linking; cut-copy-paste editing; collaborative document sharing by multiple users; and modern teleconferencing. Engelbart had developed his ideas in a research setting; it would be fifteen years before the Apple Macintosh (1984) commercialized the mouse and GUI, and nearly forty years before Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides (2006) popularized wiki-style document sharing. In his 1994 book Insanely Great, journalist Steven Levy described Engelbart’s influence on modern computing and hailed his 1968 tour de force as “the mother of all demos.” 
Douglas Engelbart died in 2013, but he lived long enough to see his impact on contemporary computing. In the end, Engelbart achieved the goal he set for himself after his 1951 epiphany; he had maximized his contribution to mankind.
 On Engelbart and his influence, see Thierry Bardini, Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000) and Susan B. Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart: Developing the Underlying Concepts for Contemporary Computing,” IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 19 no. 3 (July-September 1997): 16-26. The first description of Engelbart’s 1968 talk as “the mother of all demos” is ascribed to journalist Steven Levy in his book Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer that Changed Everything (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 42.
 Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart,” 16-18. The quotation is from Ken Jordan, “The Click Heard Round the World,” an interview with Douglas Engelbart, Wired, 1 January 2004, https://www.wired.com/2004/01/mouse/.
 Engelbart, quoted in Jordan, “The Click Heard Round the World.”
 Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart,” 18.
 Douglas Engelbart, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” a report to the Director of Information Sciences, Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Menlo Park, CA: Stanford Research Institute, 1962). For a helpful synopsis, see Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart,” 18-21.
 Re: Engelbart’s grant support and establishment of the ARC, see Douglas Engelbart, “The Augmented Knowledge Workshop,” in A History of Personal Workstations, edited by Adele Goldberg (New York: ACM Press, 1988): 187-232, especially pp. 191-194; also Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart,” 18, 21. Finally, see J. C. R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics, March 1960, 4-11.
 On the capabilities of the NLS, see Engelbart, “The Augmented Knowledge Workshop,” 194-201; Barnes, “Douglas Carl Engelbart,” 21-22; and Bardini, Bootstrapping, 58-138. For Engelbart’s mouse quotation, see Valerie Landau and Eileen Clegg eds., The Engelbart Hypothesis: Dialogs with Douglas Engelbart, 2nd ed. (Berkeley, CA: NextPress, 2009), in the chapter titled “Engelbart on the Mouse and Keyset,” pp. 24-28.
 Engelbart, “The Augmented Knowledge Workshop,” 202.
 Engelbart, quoted in Jordan, “The Click Heard Round the World.”
 On the demo’s production infrastructure, see Engelbart, “The Augmented Knowledge Workshop,” 202, and Englebart quoted in Jordan, “The Click Heard Round the World.”
 “Interview of Douglas Engelbart,” p. 42, conducted in four sessions by Henry Lowood and Judith Adams, December 1986 through April 1987, in the Douglas C. Engelbart Papers, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, CA, available online at https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:cb260zz4895/cb260zz4895_script.pdf.
 The Doug Engelbart Institute has preserved and annotated his full 90-minute presentation in eight segments; see “The 1968 Demo – Interactive,” http://www.dougengelbart.org/content/view/374/464/. SRI International has edited a 5:35 highlights reel for YouTube; see “1968 ‘Mother of All Demos’ by SRI’s Doug Engelbart and Team,” https://youtu.be/B6rKUf9DWRI. For a helpful description of the demo, see Valerie Landau, “How Douglas Engelbart Invented the Future,” Smithsonian Magazine, January 2018, available online at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/douglas-engelbart-invented-future-180967498/.
 Engelbart, quoted in Jordan, “The Click Heard Round the World.” The ARC team also published a conference paper to complement their demo; see Douglas C. Engelbart and William K. English, “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect,” in Proceedings of the AFIPS 1968 Joint Fall Computer Conference 33 (Washington, DC: Spartan Books, 1968): 395-410.
 On the Apple Macintosh’s debt to Engelbart, see Levy, Insanely Great, 34-48; the “mother of all demos” quotation is on p. 42. On the rollout of Google Docs, see “Google Docs,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Docs.