A few days ago I posted a challenge to name the researcher/team and approximate year each of the following 16 important technologies was first demonstrated. In brief, they were:
- The personal computer for dedicated individual use all day long.
- The mouse.
- Network service discovery.
- Live collaboration and desktop/app sharing.
- Hierarchical structure within a file system and within a document.
- Cut/copy/paste, with drag-and-drop.
- Paper metaphor for word processing.
- Advanced pattern search and macro search.
- Keyword search and multiple weighted keyword search.
- Catalog-based information retrieval.
- Flexible interactive formatting and line drawing.
- Hyperlinks within a document and across documents.
- Tagging graphics, and parts of graphics, as hyperlinks.
- Shared workgroup document collaboration with annotations etc.
- Live shared workgroup collaboration with live audio/video teleconference in a window.
A single answer to all of the above: Doug Engelbart and his ARC team, in what is now known as “The Mother of All Demos”, on Monday, December 9, 1968.
Last month, we marked the 40th anniversary of the famous Engelbart Demo, a truly unique “Eureka!” moment in the history of computing. 40 years go, Engelbart and his visionary team foresaw — and prototyped and demonstrated — many essential details of what we take for granted as our commonplace computing environment today, including all of the above-listed technologies, most of them demonstrated for the first time in that talk.
This talk would be noteworthy and historic just for being the first time a “mouse” was shown and called by that name. Yet the mouse was just one of over a dozen important innovations to be compellingly presented with working prototype implementations.
Note: Yes, some of the individual technologies have earlier theoretical roots. I deliberately phrased the question to focus on implementations because it’s great to imagine a new idea, but it isn’t engineering until we prove it can work by actually building it. For example, consider hypertext: Vannevar Bush’s Memex, vintage 1945, was a theorectical “proto-hypertext” system but it unfortunately remained theoretical, understandably so given the nascent state of computers at the time. Project Xanadu, started in 1960, pursued similar ideas but wasn’t demonstrated until 1972. The Engelbart Demo was the first time that hypertext was publicly shown in a working form, together with a slew of other important working innovations that combined to deliver an unprecedented tour de force. What made it compelling wasn’t just the individual ideas, but the working demonstrations to show that the ideas worked and how they could combine and interact in wonderful ways.