- Paperback: 139 pages
- Publisher: NextPress; 2st Edition edition (November 17, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0615308902
- ISBN-13: 978-0615308906
- Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.5 x 6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,609,408 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Engelbart Hypothesis: dialogs with Douglas Engelbart Paperback – November 17, 2009
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Centuries of silo thinking and win-or-die ideological and economic competition have finally generated a global crisis. Now either we collaborate on a global scale to solve the new global problems, or we won't survive. The technology is available to do so. Billions of intelligences are waiting to participate. How do we bring the two together? We are at a decision crossroads. And as this book vividly demonstrates, Doug Engelbart as been there all along, waiting for us with the answer.
Emmy-Award Winning Historian James Burke --Email to the authors
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The story emerged from a series of interviews and dialogs taking place over six years, about the many groundbreaking themes that arose in Engelbart's mind more than half a century ago.
The book is extremely readable and compact, divided into three main sections, the first dedicated to Engelbart's ideas, work, and life (about 70 pages), the second presenting "Reflections by Fellow Pioneers of the Computer Age" (30 pages), and the third containing case studies by scholars, teachers and scientists about their work and life applying Engelbart's concepts (40 pages). It is the kind of book that you cannot put down until you've read the last page.
In the 1950s Douglas Engelbart started to think about ways of turning the computer into a machine that could help us solve problems.
It is difficult to zap back to the mid 20th century and imagine what it must have been like for a person to start thinking and developing ideas for concepts many of which we now take for granted: we use graphical user interfaces, word processors, spreadsheets, e-mail, hypertext, video conferencing, the internet, social networking, and we may use wikis or a collaborative platform in which working knowledge and expertise evolves into an additional random access organizational brain, available on tap. Yet, Engelbart envisaged all those uses and applications over the years when he ran the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). He did not only envisage them, but built a system that incorporated all those functionalities. He also invented the mouse, featuring in the original system as just one device of several to aid human interaction with the computer.
It is no wonder that Engelbart himself describes the moment that he became aware of his mission in the early 50s (he came to call it his crusade), as an epiphany. He must have felt the power of that brainwave in every sinew of his body, and understood intuitively that the potential of computer technology could unimaginably revolutionize everything we do, everything we make, and how we live our lives in our different societies all over the world.
His two co-authors Valerie Landau and Eileen Clegg point out in the introduction that Engelbart was far ahead of his time, and that is true, if understated. If you put together a team of the world's top innovators, inventors, IT experts now, in 2009, they would be hard put to come up with any idea or notion that had not already been thought of, proposed, or implemented by Engelbart in the 1960s.
An important aspect stressed by the authors is the underlying philosophical framework Engelbart applied to all his endeavours, which were uncompromisingly aimed at augmenting the human intellect. Augmentation, and not automation, was the key concept that fed all his thinking and actions. This is an essential distinction which was also creating separate camps in the small computer community at the time. The automation camp would think cybernetics, AI, and robots, aiming to replace the brain, whereas the augmentation camp would aim at creating some kind of symbiosis between man and machine.
To quote Charles Irby, Information Architect at the ARC for seven years:
"I think a lot of the things that he [Engelbart] was doing had to do with the combination of developing a technology and, at the same time, developing the human side -- ways of dealing with that technology and incorporating that technology into the way you get things done". (p. 40)
There are so many details in the book that anyone reading about them for the first time will find mind-blowing, but I particularly loved the biographical section when Engelbart talks about his youth, and early influences. One story characterizing the man is about how as a teenager he found this 1916 Model T Ford, and spent 7 years working on it, finding out how it worked, and in fact getting it to running condition. When he was barely 20, just after WWII, he read that seminal Atlantic Monthly article by Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think" ([...]), remembering being greatly "intrigued" by it. Another crucial idea he picked up from reading William James, was that humans actually employ only a small proportion of their mental capability.
Then on to his working life, how he invented the mouse, how he was right there when the first two computers were connected in 1969, the first computer network, that became the Arpanet, and later the internet. His thoughts about scalability inspired Gordon Moore (founder of Intel) to formulate Moore's Law. He talks about Capability Infrastructure, Concurrent Development, Integration, and Application of knowledge, the Networked Improvement Community, and the ABC Improvement Infrastructure.
And, of course, he talks about the great demo, held in 1968, in which he and his team actually demonstrated the system they had been building. This demo, with an audience of 3000, was so totally mind-blowing, that some attendees could not believe what they had seen, and angrily quizzed Engelbart afterwards, believing he had faked the whole thing. Many, if not all, leading pioneers of the computer age were present at the demo, which has come to be called "the mother of all demos" (See[...] ).
The second half of the book presents the reflections and comments of fellow pioneers like Alan Kay and Vint Cerf, and provides illustrations of how Engelbart's principles and methods were put into practice. Their contributions are highly valuable, as they give you a kind of 360 view on Engelbart's achievements, increasing understanding and bringing home the realization what a giant Douglas Engelbart was, and is.
A final note about the medium: it's a book, printed on paper. Before it was printed, however, it lived on the web for a while, in the form of a weblog, inviting comments from readers. In fact, it's still there, [...] , and still open for comments. Paradoxically perhaps, I think it's great that the book exists in print. I called the book a gem, but I feel that is too static an image. It's really a grain of sand, aimed at irking the mind, stimulating new connections, movements of thought into new territory, providing the potential for developing those softer jewels.
I discovered Doug's work in the early 1990s, and his ideas are the reference perspective of my worldview, and have guided my professional career ever since. As I have been reading this book, I recognize its importance for addressing the most fundamental challenge of the Knowledge Age -- how we resolve the issues surrounding intellectual property. At the core of this intellectual property challenge is the tension between maintaining the integrity of a visionary's ideas, safeguarding these ideas from a blurring dilution as these ideas become more widely known, and the need for developing shared understandings necessary to continue the quest to realize the vision.
For further reference regarding Doug's work and "The Demo", visit the Doug Engelbart Institute site, [...] Also see the 40th Anniversary Celebration event videos at: [...] especially the highlights from The Demo and his daughter Christina's presentation, "Driving Vision", [...]
Valerie and Eileen talked with Doug for several years to tease out his amazing story. They've succeeded in capturing Doug's thoughts in 140 pages of simple, accessible language and graphics. If you want to know where Web 2.0 came from, you owe it to yourself to read this book.
The content seems fine, but the lack of work formatting it properly makes it very distracting to take in the information. This is a great book, but it needs to be fixed by Amazon.