Doug Engelbart
Illuminates Hermes from the information technology side

We begin by the following two statements from the Silicon Valley folklore:

  • Alan Kay’s “What will the Silicon Valley do when they run out of Doug’s ideas?”
  • Doug Engelbart’s answer “3.6%” to Sam Hahn’s question, at PFTF 2010, “What percentage of your vision, Doug, has been implemented?”

Could it indeed be true that “96.4%” of the potential for IT development and social impact might still be undeveloped? And if so—what might this undeveloped potential consist of?

Many years ago, I dreamed that people were talking seriously about the potential of harnessing a technological and social nervous system to improve the IQ of our various organizations. What if, suddenly, in an evolutionary sense, we evolved a super new nervous system to upgrade our collective social organisms? Then I dreamed that we got strategic and began to form cooperative alliances of organizations, employing advanced networked computer tools and methods to develop and apply new collective knowledge.

This is how Doug recalled his original vision several years ago. But that was not at all what ensued: The technology components he created as building blocks for pursuing this vision were used for implementing the conventional ways of working (the desktop, the filing cabinet, the conventional written document...) in the digital medium.

This enabled a smooth, worldwide acceptance and deployment of information technology, and a vast creation of wealth.

But this also inhibited the development of all those other, more innovative ways of using the information technology, and thwarted the technology’s potential for positively impacting the society through systemic change, which Doug envisioned. 

What might result if we now “got strategic, and began to form cooperative alliances of organizations...”?

This is precisely what Hermes undertakes to achieve.

We follow Doug Engelbart’s story in parallel to Jantsch’s: Having anticipated—already in1951(!)—the potential for networked computer technology to enable collectively intelligent human systems, and in that way solutions to increasingly complex human problems, Engelbart undertook to do what he could to realize this possibility. In 1968, “the year of a global bifurcation”, we see him demonstrating the personal and networked computing technology as we know it today, all developed in his SRI-based laboratory.

During the 1970s Jantsch and Engelbart lived and worked across the San Francisco Bay from each other—Jantsch at UC Berkeley, Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute. Yet (as far as our investigations could probe) they did not meet and did not know about each other.

What would have happened if these two men met and collaborated?

In 1969 Jantsch struggled to convince the MIT researchers and administrators to create “system laboratories for integrative system planning and design”; at that time Engelbart already had one.

Engelbart couldn’t convince his sponsors, his co-workers and most importantly the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that the information technology’s most valuable potential is to change the existing systemic solutions, in knowledge work and beyond; that those can be made incomparably more effective, and better serving us in these demanding times. Erich Jantsch, and more broadly the systems sciences, owned this message, with compelling, scientific arguments.

Hermes.CoI »Hermes.CoI
Visionaries »Visionaries
Doug Engelbart
Doug Engelbart »Doug Engelbart
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