Douglas Engelbart, heralded as one of the earliest inventors of the computer mouse, has passed away at age 88.
The Internet pioneer’s death — caused by kidney failure, according to the New York Times — was confirmed by his daughter, Christina Engelbart, in a statement published to the Interesting People mailing list.
“Very sorry to inform my father passed away in his sleep peacefully at home last night,” she wrote in an early morning message. “His health had been deteriorating of late, and took a turn for worse on the weekend. I will circle back around soon, for now just wanted to give you all advanced notice and look forward to discussing your thoughts as I am a bit fuzzy at present.”
Engelbart joined the computing movement early on, working at a government aerospace laboratory in California in 1950, when computers were still room-sized machines accessible to only one person at a time.
Later that year, just days after he was engaged to be married, Engelbart had a vision: He saw himself sitting in front of a computer screen full of symbols — a workspace used to organise information and communications, the Times said.
Nothing came of his vision, though, until more than a decade later, when he established an experimental research group at Stanford Research International (now called SRI International) with the help of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force, and NASA. Engelbart was developing a variety of interactive computer technologies, which he brought to the Fall Joint Computer Conference (FJCC) at San Francisco’s Brooks Hall auditorium in 1968.
There, he showed off an early mouse prototype — a wooden device with two perpendicular wheels — which he’d invented four years earlier. The 100-minute presentation, dubbed “The Mother of All Demos,” is showcased in part in the video above.
Among the accomplishments of Engelbart and his SRI research team are the mouse, bitmapped screens, hypertext, networked computers, and elements of a modern, windows GUI.
In 2000, the scientist was honoured by President Bill Clinton with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, which recognised Engelbart’s work in “creating the foundations of personal computing including continuous, real-time interaction based on cathode-ray tube displays and the mouse, hypertext linking, text editing, on-line journals, shared-screen teleconferencing, and remote collaborative work.”
Engelbart, inducted into the Computer History Museum in 2005, authored more than 25 publications and holds more than 20 patents.
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