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Doug Engelbart Interview : What Doug Wants

Last updated on October 17, 2018

I interviewed Doug Engelbart for the web documentary of which the question of what he really wanted to do at the late stage of his life is worth highlighting so I have transcribed it here. Full audio of this dialogue is available:   

What Would you like to have happen?

This has to become a large movement. It has to create an improvement infrastructure in the world that’s of a scope that can really get the changes occurring in the way we think and work together that’ll have be more effective.

I’ve got a lot of concepts in mind about how the human brain, the human perceptual machinery and sensory machinery can be helped considerably.

What would you like people to do?

I would like them to ask how they can join this collective movement.

We have a basic scheme and a strategy and it’s getting started with the evolution because there is nobody who knows the answer of what should be in five or ten years.

The best we can do is get on a path which will facilitate the evolution of our ways of thinking and working and getting real help from the computer.

What are the real first steps?

Get a novel set of tools together which can work in the current legacy environment and bring a new degree of flexible capability and it also offers a nice evolution – it doesn’t require large, stiff, ways of changing what your organisation does. (This is what he called the Hyperscope)

Then its the infrastructure within the organisations and between them to facilitate the evolution, what I call ‘an improvement infrastructure’. That would mean that the collaborative processes among people actually trying to implement the aggregate knowledge organised in ways which facilitate your understanding and can be flexible in its evolution as new understanding improves in the way of bringing logical rationale in to the ways which many disparate kinds of assertions and data can be pieced together and structured so ‘hey’ – a reasonable logical assumptions are such and so…

So that would basically mean having specific people working on this. If you were to hire them today, what kind of resumes would you be looking at?

A mix of people:

  • People who can work with fairly deep technology.
  • People who can work on training and change in the organisation.
  • People to measure the effectiveness of the new collective ‘smarts’.
  • People who are interested in finding out how to push to higher and higher levels of capabilities for specially equipped and trained teams. Orientating of the specially trained teams to approach the aggregate of knowledge and integrate and show reasonable conclusions and what their explanations are.

If you had a leaders willing to support this, what would we need to invest in first, what are the baby steps?

The first step would be to set up the infrastructure within the organisation:

A core of people who can coach/guide/facilitate the evolution of the new processes, methods and terminology and uses of equipment etc:

Information Processing Specialist

You would need an ‘information processing specialist’ person who would be flexible enough to what’s coming from the new evolution and to work with the people who say they need new methodology.

Special Teams

It would be more efficient to take special teams and move them ahead in their capabilities before everybody but everybody can start the path with the Hyperscope and that is evolution – but the special teams can push ahead which would be very valuable.

Architect of the Knowledge Workshop

The ‘architect of the knowledge workshop’ would be more than IT people by quite a bit.

It would be like in materials handling workshops you realise what you are trying to construct and you realise what kinds of special tools you would need and what special training the people would need to have and how the materials would need to move from stage to stage and being handled in order to have an effective flow. The same thing would be for the knowledge activities that go on.

How do you want people to feel after the presentation?

Doug: How I want them to feel is that they realise that there is a frontier that hasn’t been explored that the new capabilities that computers can provide can make a big difference in the way in which people can conceptualise and portray their concepts and represent them in the structured way of developing a plan, a design, an understanding and that people can learn the new skills and that, yes, we have taken so long for granted that the page in a book is *the way* that knowledge is supposed to be portrayed but from there realise that that’s old technology and the new technologies do not have to emulate the page in a book.

So what should the people run out and do?

Doug: They can start by saying; ‘look, why don’t the people in my circle of workers/professionals/etc. why don’t we start to get organised to start this kind of evolution, in a way which we can cooperate effectively with others, sort of like the way that professional societies cooperate’.

Evolution towards what?

Evolution in a wide number of aspects of our working live for knowledge workers:

  • The tools we use.
  • Specialised ways of viewing information, manipulating it, handling it.
  • Evolution towards social groups being able to be much more effective at developing, integrating and applying knowledge collectively.

Final Thought

The early months and years of this have to be an investment that’s based on the long term return but there should be important returns within a year or so that people will be Abel to see differences.


Note : Facilitated Evolution

‘Facilitated Evolution’ is the very important term in the thinking here. Evolution will happen naturally and we aren’t smart enough to do design from here to the end, so the best we can do is to find an effective way for facilitating the evolution of our organisations, of our ways of thinking, our tools etc.

We need to put practices and organisations in place.

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