Artifact Details


Solving Today's Great Problems? Lessons from Engelbart's Demo @50

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For Doug Engelbart and his team, the prize was not the revolutionary tools they previewed at their famous 1968 demo and which went on to revolutionize computing through today: Web-like clickable links, word processing, online collaboration, spell checkers, multiple windows, the mouse, networked information centers, and more. These were all stepping stones to Engelbart's wildly ambitious goal – to help us master the world's greatest challenges, by augmenting humanity's collective problem-solving abilities.

Today's urgent issues differ slightly from the 1960s. Climate change has nudged out overpopulation and pollution, while nuclear war and hunger remain high on the list. But we still face the same mismatch that worried Engelbart. As the general pace of change accelerates, problems grow in complexity far faster than our ability to solve them.

His solution was to address this head-on, by setting up his Augmentation Research Laboratory as a giant feedback loop: improved computer tools would lead to more capable users, who would in turn design a further improved generation of tools, and so on. He hoped this kind of snowball effect, which he called bootstrapping, would let users and their tools co-evolve to new levels of capability, much as language and writing did for our ancestors. At minimum, Engelbart hoped future knowledge workers would be able to build and iterate on each other's work with the ease of a musical virtuoso playing an instrument.

50 years on, is Engelbart's approach still relevant to today's urgent problems? The start of the event introduces his work, and then moderator and leading futurist Paul Saffo explores that question with a panel of experts on some of today's major challenges. Saffo has been an author, forecaster, and educator at Stanford, Singularity University, and the Institute for the Future, and has studied and presented on Engelbart’s work for over two decades.

The distinguished panel includes Stanford marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer Erika Woolsey, CEO of The Hydrous, whose work focuses on marine collapse and sea level rise; a principal of, a cross-sector collaboration that leverages both human and cyber networks to address nuclear risks; and Ben Rattray, co-founder of, to address large-scale change through networked organizations.




Rattray, Ben, Speaker
Saffo, Paul, Moderator
Woolsey, Erika, Speaker


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, CA







Collection Title

CHM Live


Computer History Museum

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