With less than one year left to prepare for the 50th anniversary of the Mother of all Demos, it’s about time to look at the projects that potentially can be presented on the 2018-12-09. The event is an important milestone to determine if we made significant progress in realizing Doug’s vision for the last 50 years, and it seems like we’re a little bit late. Still, I like to address the big picture first before committing to blind actionism.
But what does it even mean to “realize Doug’s vision” in the context of 2018? I have to admit that I’ve never watched the entire demo in one go, it’s just very difficult to spend a hour of quality Internet time in front of my computer, passively watching things that happen on a screen. I wondered why this is the case, and my impression is that the demo was made for end users, not system developers. Doug didn’t explain/discuss the technical details or what their results could mean conceptually for human-computer interaction, and as there’s no way for me to actually use their system today, that particular showcase is kind of practically irrelevant for me. It feels more like an advertisement, and to some extend, it is. If I’m not mistaken, part of the goal for the demo was to attract further funding for the project, which is perfectly fine, as there was no fast/cheap way to make the system a universally availabe product soon in those days. So I see the great demo more like a PR stunt, which in fact served pretty well to introduce people to the notion of personal, networked, visual and augmented interaction with a computer. So how can we replicate a similar effect? Do we even have to?
The world is very different now. In 1968, computers (especially for personal use) were a new thing, so it was natural to explore this technology – how can it help with solving problems of ever-increasing complexity? Today, people have seen computers, we know what they do. If the goal is to contribute tools for dealing with the big problems, we might not deploy computers in the traditional sense any more. For instance, if quantum computing would be around the corner, there would be the chance to hold another revolutionary demo. In the field of augmented reality, we should immediately start with preparing one and it wouldn’t even be difficult to do so. Would such endeavors still be true to Doug in spit? Sure, they’re not about documents and knowledge, the web would stay unfixed, so there could be some merit in replicating the image that Doug put in front of us. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be an either-or, but a decision for the anniversary event might shape what’s considered to be Engelbartian for the future, if it is a conservational or progressive movement, or both. Is the anniversary supposed to refresh the original vision, to promote a new/updated one (we could even mock one), or encourage long-term research and development?
If we end up with the goal to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful (in an open way and for real!), we have to realize that people don’t get excited about text manipulation any more as they already have Office suites and the web, that blue-sky spending isn’t available any more, that our results will be less innovative as the field isn’t new and there’s much more “competition” around. On the other hand, what Doug was able to do with a team of people working several years while spending money, a single guy can get ahead slowly without any financial backing as we don’t have to start from scratch and can benefit from existing technology and methods.