Few people know the name of Douglas Karl Engelbart, but this does not prevent almost 1 billion people from using his inventions every day, the most popular of which is the computer mouse.
On January 30, 1925, a boy was born into a family of ordinary hardworking farmers near Portland, Oregoe. A boy like a boy: he went to school, after which he entered the local university, aiming for a diploma in electrical engineering. But the unexpected outbreak of the Second World War confused all plans, assigning the young Douglas to the Philippine naval base as a radio technician. Fate has already determined the path of Douglas, who was then far from technology, slipping the Atlantic Monthly under his nose with the cult article of the famous American IT and computer scientist Vannevar Bush "As We May Think".
The author of the article reasoned quite interestingly on the difference between the structure of human memory and external storage media. He described his own hypothetical photoelectromechanical machine Memex, whose place is more in a science fiction film than in our reality. However, the stated theory of animating inanimate nature turned out to be contagious, and Enelbart seriously thought about the prospect of using the most complex army equipment in civilian life.
Returning from the war, Engelbart was invited to the NASA laboratory to work as an electrical engineer. Having received a stable source of income, Douglas finally moved to California, where he spends most of his time at the laboratory. The rest of the time he attends studies at the University of Berkeley and in 1955 he successfully graduated with a doctorate in his field and quit NASA to be closer to computers. To obtain the necessary skills, Dr. Engelbart becomes the right hand of the university professor of electrical engineering. And in the same year he was involved in many years of work on the project CALDIC (Califotnia Digital Computer), the development of which was funded by the military. It is easy to understand that a supercomputer was developed within the walls of Berkeley.
A year later, he moved to Stanford Research Institute and then tried to commercialize his work for the first time. Over the next four years, the inventor patented seven bistable gas-plasma digital devices and 12 magnetic devices. In particular, those born in preparation for a doctorate. But they never managed to sell them. Undaunted, Dglas teamed up with engineer Hewitt Crane to develop magnetic computer components and conduct fundamental research into the phenomenon of digital devices and their potential miniaturization. Engelbart's persistence and dedication did their job again. At Stanford, they relented and helped the young scientist organize his own laboratory and a staff of 47 people. Douglas Enelbart subjects to a rather cruel selection of people who want to take part in his projects, tirelessly repeating: "It is not the process that needs to be improved, but the private owner of the process."
The scientist's crazy dedication to his work should definitely have led to positive results. And so it happened - Douglas expanded the directions in which his laboratory, known at that time as the Augmentation Research Center, worked, and the On-Line-System, or NLS, working environment.
NLS is a computer system that includes a fundamentally new operating system, a universal programming language, e-mail, split screens of teleconferences, and a contextual help system.
Not long before this, Engelbart wrote an article entitled A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man's Intellect, where he describes the H-LAM / T (Human using Language, Artifacts and Methodoly, in which he is Trained ( a system for increasing human abilities through language, artifacts and methodology)). The essence of this description boiled down to the fact that in a pair of man - machine, the user is assigned the role of the leader (creative component), and the computer acts as an assistant (symbiosis of dynamic components), enhancing the natural intelligence of a person.
The project was unique in that already at that time (in the 1960s!) It contained a contextual help system, e-mail, newsgroups, hypertext links, online text editing and a windowed interface. In fact, it was the first ever working hypertext system. The mainframe of Engelbart's lab was the second computer connected to the then emerging military network ARPANet, the direct progenitor of the modern Internet.
1964 creation of a computer mouse.
The doctor's team was entrusted with the creation of the ARPANet Network Information Center. And just as a side effect of the NLS project, the first manipulator was born, which was called a computer mouse (or in the language of a scientific report, "indicator of X and Y positions").
This ingenious device, without which any workflow on a computer is now inhibited, was developed by accident. It was just that existing manipulators (joysticks, light pens and keyboard) slowed down the processes of the windowed environment, and Douglas quickly came up with an add-on that could facilitate existing processes. The device turned out to be a brilliant find!
Despite the seeming simplicity, and most likely, it was thanks to her that the first pulp deprived Engelbart's colleagues of sleep, who rushed to improve the new device. The first working prototype of a unique invention was presented by Engelbart's colleague Bill English. The device was a thick-walled wooden box with giant metal wheels, a red button barely visible to the human eye and an uncomfortable "tail" under the user's wrist. However, there is no limit to perfection, and in some 40 years the mouse has become a favorite pet on millions of computer tables around the world.
The new NLS system never became widespread, because Douglas' ideas seemed too innovative to the military for the time. Egelbart never endeavored to create the simplest circuits. He believed that a physically and mentally healthy person who is perfect does not need to "chew" everything and put it in his mouth. For example, to work properly with a chord keyboard, the user had to learn mnemonic and 5-bit binary codes. Moreover, this is the simplest thing that needed to be done to work with the system.
In addition to this, Engelbart did not know how to sell his ideas. But he was paid for one. Ten thousand dollars for a device, without which normal work on a computer is not possible for users all over the world. The entire fee was spent on a down payment for a modest home away from the luxurious villas that flooded Silicon Valley.
The failure of the NLS marked the beginning of the end for Engelbart's lab. The employees fled from the scientist, not forgetting to grab the ideas of their guru. In particular, Bill English continued developing the mouse under the wing of Xerox PARC. Due to the fact that the device of the new mice was different from the one patented by Douglas, nothing could be done about it. In addition, in 1987, the patent expired, just slightly missing the moment when mice scattered across the planet overnight through the efforts of Apple, Microsoft and IBM. In an interview, Engelbart said that Stanford did not understand the value of the mouse patent at all. It is known for certain that the institute sold Apple a license for the manipulator at a ridiculous price of 40 thousand dollars.
While the plagiarists squeezed millions out of his idea, the genius worked as an ordinary employee who devotes all his free time to his family. In addition, his house burned down, and everything he had acquired over the years disappeared in the fire, and Douglas himself fell seriously ill. He does not like to talk about this period of his life and once even called it "exile to Siberia."
In the late 80s - early 90s, Douglas was suddenly remembered and decided to recognize his merits and contribution to computer progress. Rewards fell on the desperate inventor from a cornucopia. This allowed him to improve his deplorable financial situation and open a non-profit project Bootstrap Institute (Institute of Self-Improvement), which to this day exists on the money of the authorities and investors. The organization brings together representatives of the IT sector with the aim of "forming alliances and improving both their organizations and themselves." Today they are actively working on Open Hyper-Document Systems and developing the concept of collective IQ.
As already mentioned, Engelbart does not like simple schemes. Therefore, his life scheme resembled a fascinating film. Dedicating his life to science, he managed to keep the earth under his feet and even grow fruit on it - he is not only the father of a computer mouse, but also four children. He also has nine grandchildren.
Now Douglas Engelbart is one of the highest paid employees of the "mouse tycoon" Logitech. And although he never became a businessman, now he is practically not remembered and his fees are not measured in six or seven figures, we then know who was ahead of his time and was the first to create what the nosy tycoons ascribe to themselves.