Thursday, July 04, 2013

RIP Douglas Engelbart, An Early Visionary Idealistic Computer Genius



In our popular culture today, America glorifies and worships mediocrities like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton. But beyond those two obvious examples, our nation has an obsession with celebrities in general. We tend to overlook, marginalize and ignore those who have real, worthy accomplishments.

One obscure, but worthy, giant, computer pioneer Douglas Engelbart, died on July 2, at the age of 88. Although recognized in certain scientific circles, Engelbart was relatively unknown to most Americans. And it's a shame: Engelbart was a true visionary and genius who played a huge role in creating modern computers and the Internet.

Just how pioneering was Engelbart's work? To get an idea of this, watch the video above. The video shows a presentation that Engelbart gave on Dec. 9, 1968 that debuted many important computer innovations for the first time, including a computer mouse, hypertext, and many other breakthroughs.

There's not much exciting content to see early on in the video, but if you jump ahead to the video's 4:48 mark, you can watch Engelbart using a computer mouse, along with a computer. At first glance, it may not seem like that big a deal. But it's absolutely astonishing when you consider that this is all taking place way back in 1968.

Engelbart, in fact, invented the computer mouse. But unfortunately, he never got any royalties for his invention. Engelbart's mouse was wheel-driven (the ball-driven mouse was invented by the German company Telefunken in the 1960s).

Needless to say, without the modern computer mouse, personal computing as we know it today would be virtually inconceivable.

Unfortunately our society tends to relegate visionaries Engelbart to the sidelines while we praise the "accomplishments" of vapid celebrities who get paid vast sums to play golf or star in movies. Mediocrities like Rush Limbaugh get paid hundreds of millions of dollars to spew lies on the public airwaves and poison the nation's political dialogue, while true worthies like Engelbart languish in relative obscurity.

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