by Leon Rosenshein

Hello Mother

Speaking of change and staying the same, today is the anniversary of the mother of all demos.

Poster announcing the fall joint computer conference on Dec 9th

54 years ago Douglas Engelbart got on stage at the ACM/IEEE Fall Joint Computer Conference and defined the environment we’re living in today.

In 90 minutes he showed, on one system, things that had never been seen together before. Things like graphical interfaces, windows, real-time collaboration, hypertext, mice, version control, video conferencing and more.

A lot of people say that Steve Jobs stole the ideas for the Mac from Xerox’s PARC, and that might be true, but the folks at PARC got their ideas from the Engelbart and the demo. Pretty much everything we take for granted about computers (and smartphones) can be traced right back to that demo. Everything from Amazon to Zoom. The world wide web is there in hypertext. Click on something and see it. Chat with your friends and co-workers. Video, audio, and shared media. You can see the basis for communities like Facebook, Twitter, Mastodon, and TikTok in the demo. You can see the beginning of Napster and file sharing. The source for Spotify and streaming. And to top it off the demo was done remotely. Engelbart had the terminal with him, but the computer was back at the office.

About the only two things the demo didn’t foreshadow were touchscreens and the size of today’s smartphones. While they weren’t in the demo, they were signs of what was coming. In 1965 the first touchscreen systems were developed and that’s the same year Gordon Moore first mentioned his eponymous Moore’s Law, so if you were aware of them you could see the writing on the wall.

So thanks Doug for the demo and the world you wished in to being with your demo. You should watch it when you get a chance.