'I hope India will take a lead in the research of Collective IQ

DQI Bureau
New Update

Twas a wintry December Monday in 1968, when 43-year-old inventor Douglas C

Engelbart, dressed up in formals, took to stage at the Fall Joint Computer

Conference in San Francisco. Wearing a headset, Engelbart gave a demonstration

of a project titled Augmenting Human Intellect that he and his team had been

working on at the SRI Campus in Menlo Park, California. In some ninety odd

minutes, Engelbart completely changed the way people perceived and would

perceive computers henceforththrough the numerous inventions that debuted that

day, like the hyperlink, graphical user interface, an online system (NLS),

object addressing and dynamic file linking, and, amazingly, communication over a

network with audio and video interface (later to be known as video-conferencing)

and not to forget the groovy mouse. By showing how he could manage his shopping

list (frequently updated by wife) on a computer screen through links and charts,

Engelbart liberated the computer from the labs and brought it within the realms

of what he called the knowledge worker. Little wonder that Engelbarts demo

has ever since been referred to as the Mother of all the Demos.


It has been some forty years since that penultimate night, and the world has

changed so much. Still, Engelbart continues to toil. The man, who shared

tomorrow some four decades back, has still a lot to show us. Renowned as the

father of the mouse, Engelbart is, without any doubt, one of the greatest

inventors of computing. But more than an inventor, he is also a philosopher who

finds metaphysical strains in his work. Even now, he is striving at the

Bootstrap Institute, trying to show the world how human intelligence could be

augmented through collective effort, what he calls Collective IQ. In a detailed

discussion with Dataquest, Engelbart shared his vision for the future and his

hope that India would be a part of that vision. Excerpts.

All those wonderful things that you demonstrated in 1968 are becoming real

now. How do you feel about it? Is it great to know that you were so ahead of

your time or are you saddened by the fact that the computer industry is

achieving now all the things that you had laid out way back then?

To be truthful, it really makes me feel inadequate. I have often wondered

why I couldnt explain all those advancements in ways that it could be easily

understood by all. It is an overwhelming thought.

Douglas Engelbart,

Engelbart with the first mouse that used two gear-wheels perpendicular to
each other for tracking the cursor on the screen. He received a patent for

this X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System, as it was originally



Nearly a decade back, there was an event organized that spoke about

Douglas Engelbarts unfinished revolution. What do you think is the current

state of that revolution?

It is trudging along, and what I miss is a chance for direct dialogue. I

think about the basic concepts of what I call augmenting our Collective IQ. I

would really welcome a direct dialogue on what is Collective IQ and what

augmentation is all about. I believe that it is extremely important for the

human society to boost its Collective IQ and look. I look collectively at the

problems we face.

It was in the sixties that you had spoken about augmenting human intellect

through the use of machines. At times the implications of the same are not very

clear... if you could talk of it?

The whole human society is basically divided in terms of laborsome people

create food, some manage information, and others disseminate it. Just imagine if

all this complexity could be done away with, and a grand system could tap the

capability. Great things achieved by humans have largely been a collective

effort, take for instance the invention of language, writing, books, the human

evolution has been dependent on collectivism. Even today we can see a glimpse of

collectivism in the way companies or governments are run or even the World Wide

Web. For instance, global warming is one such issue haunting the humanity and

how well it is recognized, but then how well it is being discussed at the global


How do we move toward the state of Collective IQ?

Collective IQ is a capability level, there is a long road ahead and a great

deal of evolution is needed. I have been studying literature and articles that

talk of such capability and I hope to hear an echo of it by now. You must have

seen from time to time these diagrams of different functionalities that they

have isolated in the brain. For instance, there are portions of the brain that

handle the sensory input, and the others that handle logical reasoning. Havent

you wondered how effortlessly our brain processes information from different

sensory organs, be it audio from our ears or visuals from the eyes.


How is your work progressing at the Bootstrap Institute that you founded

some years ago?

It has just faded away a lot because I am essentially working alone and by

myself. I am old and not a very effective coordinator of things. I dont really

know what I should do to make more effective use of my dwindling energies. Many

decades back, with my team, I was the first one to build a hyperlink; I had

wanted it to be able to address any object, and, similarly, I wanted to have

discussions and debate on things that could take place. I remember the time when

we were working on the GUI. One big domain was the different ways in which you

could view a document, significantly change how you look and study a document.

For instance, you could see the first line of every paragraph in the document or

you could view all the content. There could also be many ways to jump within a

document. For instance, a jump could be based on the occurrence of the given


The computer can be a truly creative device, it can provide a whole many ways

to give a symbolic presentation of the knowledge that we are trying to deal

with. What the human brain can achieve with visual and auditory perception, so

can the computer without significant challenges. Honestly, we have only started

with how the computer can augment ones capability, understand and communicate.

What is the status of the Open Hyper Document System that you had


All these things have become stationary because I am eighty-two and cant

keep running about to coordinate things. Why dont you get India to get moving

on augmenting human intellect and I could join in? I was very impressed a year

or so ago, when the Prime Minister of India made a declaration that India would,

kind of, look at boosting the Collective IQ. The more I think about the size and

opportunity and the general reputation that India has for intelligence and

capabilities, the more hopeful I become of the potential the country has. I

dont know of a country that is as unusually placed as India, with its huge and

educated population. It will be truly wonderful, if we could get something going

in India. I hope that India will take a lead in the research of Collective IQ

and the rest of the world will follow.


At times, I feel embarrassed that I come to office day after day and dont do

much about these projects. Why dont we get it going? How soon can I start

hearing from India that Collective IQ has become a nationwide movement?

What do you feel about the commercialization of technology, the rush for

riches and patents?

I am not sure if there is any real option for the society, except

commercialization. What incentive would the inventor have or how will an

innovator be paid. I wish there were a lot more freedom for evolution. I just

shrug and take things as they are. I remember people talked me into patenting

the mouse. But, I did not patent other things. Imagine what would have happened

had I patented the idea of the link (hyperlink). Commercialization should not be

the be all and end all of everything.

How do you assess the current level of technology with powerful PCs with

broadband Internet?

I think it is very good and is touching a lot of people around the world. I

think the valuable thing to do would be to further research on how computing can

be made more pervasive. I think the computer has a far greater potential than

merely emulating the page or something, but that is what is stuck in the

paradigm of today. I dont have a research team and I wish there were some way

to get research going on the way that computer technology could provide new ways

to read and modify text that books dont provide. I feel there is much in the

way of effectiveness that could be done.


You were also involved with the precursor of the Internet?

Yes, I was part of the ARPANET project. At that time, the idea of the

Internet was much different from what we have today. The pitch was like you have

some data on your machine and someone wants to access it, it could be done

through the Internet. I remember two university researchers were there when the

discussions were taking place and suddenly one turned to the other and asked,

What is there on your computer that I could use? And the other retorted,

Dont you read my reports? Thus, genesis was simple. What I proposed to set up

was a Knowledge Information System.

I also read somewhere that you had a small role in the formulation of

Moores Law?

I had indeed mentioned that the chips will keep getting smaller and that the

transistors on them would up exponentially, but I didnt put a number to it. I

remember, in 1958, I was speaking at an event and was talking about dimensional

scaling, making things smaller and smaller. I had done intensive research and

gave a talk on it on a professional society and it turns out that Gordon Moore

was there in the audience. And Moores Law came later on. I believe that

electronic components would, indeed, be smaller and smaller due to the hunger

for new inventive things that we have.

Do you believe that the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots

will ever be bridged?

Oh! I think it is inevitable with technology getting cheaper and cheaper.

For instance, the $100 laptop that came out recently. I believe every one in the

Indian universities could use the laptop, and then it could percolate to the

schools. I feel it is inevitable that computers will replace books.


In a biographical sketch, your daughter had stated people are looking at his

past accomplishments while he himself continues to point to the future...

Thats right; there is so little dialog going on currently and thats what I

really yearn for.

What really motivates you now?

I hope that something can get going in the world and I want to stay alive

and alert for that. I almost gave up publishing rather stupidly, you know I had

indeed published a fair amount, but I didnt seem to be able to make much



Is there some sort of sadness that you have?

I guess sadness may be appropriate. But then, I tend to say, Well it is

your fault Doug, you dont know the rest of the world well enough to be able to

communicate and make them see what you do. So, at the end of the day that seems

to be a pattern of how I look at things.

Do you not think that the invention of the mouse overshadows everything

else done by you?

Sure it does overshadow, but it makes me very happy. Imagine a significant

portion of the worlds population using my invention. It is hard for me to get

used to it.

Shashwat DC