The Mother of All Demos - Incredible demonstration of a computer from 1968

The Mother of All Demos - Incredible demonstration of a computer from 1968

If you were to think about the state of computing in the late 1960's, you'd likely think about punch cards, basic text-only displays and unintuitive button interfaces. However, a conference by Doug Engelbert in December 1968 shows a live demonstration of the "oN-Line System" (NLS), which shows so many features that are comparable to modern day computing. The demonstration included a live video call to collaboratively work on a document, a mouse interface to select text and "hyperlink" to other pages, all in a GUI that would be familiar to modern computer users.

Such was the importance of the demo that it has retrospectively been called "The Mother of All Demos". This subsequently influenced the design of Xerox PARC, a similar project in the 1970s which is widely regarded as helping shape the underlying technology in both Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows operating systems in the 1980s.

You can view the full demo here, or watch a 5 minute trailer which includes some of the highlights:

Keep in mind when you watch Doug copy and paste text using a mouse cursor, that this was over 50 years ago when many of the people working on this system would have participated in WWII and digital computers were only just starting to become mainstream.

Douglas Engelbart worked at the Stanford Research Institute and presented the operation of NLS at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco on 9th December 1968. His vision was that computers could reach beyond simply performing calculations and instead augment the capabilities of humans (via communication and information retrieval). He wrote extensively about his in his 1959 paper: Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework.

Ian Cunningham
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