Posted by: pilgrimtraveler | October 1, 2010

About A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect

I found our latest reading to be more understandable, i.e., less dense.  It is rich in its implications as well as the applications it describes.  The applications can readily be seen in the Mother of All Demos series of video segments.  The hardware innovations are pretty amazing for 1968, but are not the most important part of the work that Engelbart was doing.

I think the most important part of what Engelbart was doing has to be the process he was creating and refining for working in groups. It is the way he took the “bootstrapping” aspect of the ARC and ran with it.  Here is a statement from the introduction to the essay.

“ARC worked on a “bootstrapping” principle—in which users would use their tools both for their work and for the creation of better tools.  Engelbart envisioned users creating tools, sharing tools, and altering the tools of others.”

In 2d3 Engelbart and English write and I’ll paraphrase it, “…the evolving system itself is designed to augment the system-development team.”  Then in 2e, “This “bootstrap” group has the interesting (recursive) assignment of developing tools and techniques to make it more effective at carrying out its assignment.”  And that they did.

Thierry Bardini says in Bootstrapping (2000), “But Douglas Engelbart never really gets credit for the larger contribution that he worked to create: an integrative and comprehensive framework that ties together the technological and social aspects of personal computing technology.”  Bardini was seeking to give Douglas Engelbart the credit he deserves as are we who continue to study and learn from his work and his vision.

Thinking about Engelbart’s research process and the learning that was taking place in that inspirational cauldron brought to mind a contemporary of his in the field of instructional design.  Robert Gagne wrote, The Conditions of Learning in 1965.  His “Nine Events of Instruction” mesh pretty well with the process that Engelbart was using.

It seems to me that the ubiquity of computers and the internet of today go well beyond what Engelbart was imagining in the late 60’s.  We use computers for entertainment, routine work, communication, and problem solving.  But the great problem solving and enhancing of human intellect that Engelbart had hoped for seems only to be a small part of what computers get used for today.  Nevertheless we owe a great deal to Engelbart’s vision and creativity.

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