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ENGELBART'S REVOLUTION IS STILL NOT FINISHED.

By then a researcher at SRI labs, Rachel Chalmers

Thirty years ago Doug Engelbart demonstrated the first computer mouse in San Francisco's Civic Auditorium. This week the Institute for the Future (IFTF) and Stanford University Libraries gathered computing and user interface luminaries, including Marc Andreessen, Eric Drexler and Ted Nelson, for a day-long celebration of Engelbart's work and its consequences. They concluded that today's technologies, including Windows, groupware and the world wide web, barely scratch the surface of what Engelbart was trying to achieve in his efforts to collectivize intellectual work. "This project in general and Doug Engelbart in particular started the most misunderstood revolution in computer science," said the IFTF's Paul Saffo, "the mouse is the tip of the iceberg." Engelbart now runs The Bootstrap Institute and works with government and educational institutions to exploit the collective IQ of organizations. He blamed social conservatism for the fact that today's user interfaces and knowledge management software fall far short of what he had in mind. "New technologies are becoming available at a faster and faster rate, but the rate at which we change our paradigms isn't increasing fast enough," he explained, "this is a real social hazard. This is not about automating your office. It's about augmenting human intelligence." Netscape founder Marc Andreessen questioned the ethics of trusting technology to address social problems on its own. "It has taken us thirty years to reach the point where 2% of the world's population now has access to Engelbart's ideas," he said. "The tools themselves are values-neutral. There is power for both good and evil on the net. We are starting to see how it can be used for both purposes." Eric Drexler, who pioneered the field of nanotechnology, was a little more upbeat about the prospects for change. "I'm not saying it will solve all our problems, but consider: what drives progress is the evolution of knowledge," he said. Drexler did, however, criticize the architecture of the world wide web for lacking a built-in procedure for handling responses. "We have the half that lets everyone speak. We don't have the backlinks that would let people respond and be heard by the other party," he said. "We need to have comments on the bad ideas so they sink, while the good ideas rise to the surface." Ted Nelson, the father of the ambitious Project Xanadu (which the IFTF's Saffo likened to Gaudi's unfinished cathedral in Barcelona), called for a more creative approach to interface design. "Interactive software is a branch of moviemaking," he observed, "most computer science is irrelevant. What is relevant is Welles and Hitchcock. Windows and the Macintosh are to me Tweedledum and Tweedledee. There are so many possible GUIs, and we're stuck with the one from PARC, which I like to call the PUI." In spite of these caveats, and in spite of the repeated snide reference to Microsoft Corp which, for all its faults, has done a great deal to make personal computing accessible and pervasive, the participants ended the day with nothing but praise for Engelbart and his work. A spontaneous standing ovation brought tears to his eyes.
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Publication:Computergram International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 14, 1998
Words:521
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