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Douglas Engelbart, 88; changed computers with mouse

Mr. Engelbart’s 1968 mouse introduction was called “the mother of all demos.”Michael Schmelling/A.P./File 1997

NEW YORK — Douglas C. Engelbart, a visionary scientist whose singular epiphany in 1950 about technology’s potential to expand human intelligence led to a host of inventions — among them the computer mouse — that became the basis for both the Internet and the modern personal computer, died Tuesday at his home in Atherton, Calif. He was 88.

The cause was kidney failure, his wife, Karen , said.

Beginning in the 1950s, Mr. Engelbart set out to show that progress in science and engineering could be greatly accelerated if researchers, working in small groups, shared computing power. He called the approach “bootstrapping” and believed it would raise what he called their “collective IQ.”


At the time, computers were not interactive and were used by only one person at a time.

Then it came to him. In a single stroke he had what might be called a complete vision of the information age. He saw himself sitting in front of a large computer screen full of different symbols, a vision most likely derived from his work on radar consoles while in the Navy after World War II.

A decade later, he established an experimental research group at Stanford Research International (later renamed SRI International) with financing from the Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force, and NASA. Computing industry professionals regarded Mr. Engelbart largely as a quixotic outsider.

In December 1968, however, he set the computing world on fire with a remarkable demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. At the time, the only way those and other scientists interacted with computers was by submitting stacks of punch cards to them and waiting hours for a printout of answers.

Mr. Engelbart had been developing a variety of revolutionary interactive computer technologies at his Augmentation Research Center, and he used the conference to reveal them.


He sat in front of a mouse, a keyboard, and other controls and projected the computer display on a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he had invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer.

Mr. Engelbart was awarded the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-MIT Prize, and the Turing Award, among others honors.