Douglas Engelbart, the thought leader and engineer who created, among many other things, the concept of the computer mouse, has passed away Tuesday at the age of 88. His legendary "Mother of All Demos" in 1968 anticipated the next several decades of computing and inspired all manner of other products and inventors.
Engelbart was born in Portland, Ore. in 1925, and after serving in the Navy in World War II, he pursued an education in electrical engineering. After finishing his doctorate at UC Berkeley in 1955, he migrated to Silicon Valley, where he took a position at Stanford Research Institute. He was inspired by the work of Vannevar Bush and other early computer scientists, whose inventions (and later, Engelbart's own) would fundamentally change the way people interacted with the world.
Over the next 15 years, he would work on dozens of projects which would help shape the future of computing, but his most memorable contribution for many must be the mouse. First sketched out in 1961, put to use in 1963, and shown off with many other transformative technologies at a 1968 demonstration, the mouse was a huge leap ahead in interface design.
You can watch the full demo below. The mouse, in use throughout the presentation, gets its own explanation at about the 30:55 mark.
That wasn't the only thing on display. Engelbart's revolutionary presentation touched on teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing techniques, file management and many other technologies that we take for granted today. Around the same time as this demo, Engelbart's team was working with DARPA on ARPANET, precursor to the modern Internet. Bear in mind, all of these these natural, powerful advances were demonstrated at a time when computers were room-sized objects operated with punchcards.
Doug Engelbart, inventor of the computer mouse and numerous other staples of modern computing, photographed in New York in 1997.
The uniting theme of Engelbart's life and work, as described by his daughter in this brief biography, was that of "augmenting human intellect," using computers as a way to "bootstrap" humanity and improve our collective capabilities.
Without Engelbart's contributions, computers and the Internet would likely look much different today, if they existed as we understand them at all. His mission continues via his various research projects and the Doug Engelbart Institute, and he is survived by his second wife, three daughters, a son and nine grandchildren.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.
First published July 3 2013, 2:13 PM