Yesterday, December 9, I joined the 40th Anniversary Celebration of ‘Engelbart and The Dawn of Interactive Computing’ at Stanford University to celebrate what has been called the ‘mother of all demos’. On that day in 1968, 40 years ago, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, Engelbart and his team in Stanford Research Institute’s Augmentation Research Center (ARC) debuted numerous—and now ubiquitous—technology innovations, including hypertext linking, multiple windows with flexible view control, real-time on-screen text editing, shared-screen teleconferencing, and the computer mouse.
Engelbart and his colleague William English, the engineer who designed the first mouse, conducted a real-time demonstration in San Francisco with co-workers connected from his ARC laboratory at SRI’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Yesterday, Engelbart was there at Stanford to be celebrated and to listen to the impressive list of speakers, who had conducted the demonstration or experienced it.
Like any other celebration, many anecdotes from the dawn of computer history were told. From 1961 to 1965, Robert W. Taylor was program manager for the NSA Headquarters Office of Advanced Research and Technology, and provided some of the very early and significant funding to SRI’s Augmentation Research Center. He talked about how hard it was for people to understand the new technologies in the beginning and getting a sense of what they actually were financially supporting. People instantly understood the hardware. It could be seen, felt, and measured. The hardware had size and shape. The software was more difficult. It could not be pointed out physically; it could not be seen and had no weight. If forced to point it out, you had to point to the holes in the punched cards.
Today, software has become an everyday thing. Even though, the most of us honestly do not have a clue about how software works (and we still cannot feel it or see it), there is nothing mysterious about software. I wonder if the same will happen to some of the invisible and in-sensible biotechnologies. That the more we get use to them, the more their invisibility and complexity will present a communicative problem. Two years ago, Thomas wrote a paper with the title ’Who is afraid of the recent biomedical heritage?’ (se former post on this blog, ) I wonder if that title is going to work in 10 years?