THE PURPOSE OF COMPUTING IS INSIGHT, NOT NUMBERSEnglebart followed through by asking how computer hardware and software could be designed in such a way as to augment our capacity of insight (what Englebart called, in his own words, "augmenting human intellect"). It was that motivation that led to the naming of the research he both pioneered and supervised.
We do not hear the word "intellect" used very much these days. It tends to get drowned out by those who persist in shouting "innovation." However, intellect involves far more than the ability to reinforce innovation by establishing its independence from prior art. It involves going beyond asking:
What can we do that is new?to asking:
What will be served by doing it?It also involves the ability to think dispassionately about consequences, rather than concentrating only on promotion. As a result, the world the Internet made has become a world in which unintended consequences blow back (with a nod to Chalmers Johnson) in our faces when we least expect them to do so.
The last time I heard Englebart speak was about fifteen years ago. He was as enthusiastic about augmentation as he was in 1968, when he was first beginning to show concrete results from his Augmentation Research Center. I am glad he died peacefully. Perhaps age had taught him to be philosophical when informed of all the ways in which his visions had been compromised.