Posted by Tom Foremski - November 7, 2006
It was a very dull 60th anniversary celebration for SRI International, one of the world's largest contract research institutes.
Spun out of Stanford University, it lives in the heart of Silicon Valley and started a long time before there was a Silicon Valley. It has contributed a massive amount of ideas and technologies, so it was disappointing that the event was such a dull dud.
I turned up with my 18 year old son Matt, we were primarily interested in Doug Engelbart, the legendary inventor and the most innovative thinker in the computer industry. He was on a panel with other SRI luminaries (scientists but mostly administrators.)
As we walked into the auditorium at the Computer History Museum, Curt Carlson, SRI director (see SVW interview here) was finishing his welcome keynote. The place was full, but it wasn't that full, which surprised me.
Soon, Paul Saffo, professional futurist, was up on the stage and introducing the four panelists which he would be moderating. They included Paul Cook, Phil Green, and Donald Nielson.
Mr Saffo tried to raise the level of energy in the large room but it wasn't working and what followed was a fairly slowly paced session. Things did start to get going about 35 minutes into the panel, but Mr Saffo, saying he would "honor" the schedule cut things off right on time at 45 minutes.
This puzzled me because how often do you get a panel together such as this one? Let it run longer would have been my choice and I'm sure no one in the audience would have minded.
At one point, the panel was asked about what problems needed to be solved. Mr Engelbart said that humanity faces a serious problem in being able to collectively make intelligent decisions. Unless this is addressed, we will face big problems.
This strikes at the heart of Mr Engelbart's work for more than 45 years: creating tools for a collective approach to solving big problems through the use of technology as a tool to augment human qualities and abilities.
By the way, Me Engelbart is still looking for funding to continue his work.
The best part of the evening was when Doug Engelbart spoke about how he decided on his career path. He was a second world war veteran and ex-Navy technician. He decided it would be a good idea to combine his professional work with something that would produce a big benefit to humanity. It was as simple as that!
And so he embarked on a career path that has influenced an incredible number of people and led to much of the technology we use everyday.
Here is my short video of Doug Engelbart explaining his career choice:
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Also Please see my interview with Doug Engelbart and essays on his contributions:
Ross Mayfield, CEO of SocialText, points me to his post on Doug Engelbart, and it's an excellent piece of work. June 14, 2005 11:10 AM
Part 2 in our series: How the 1960s counterculture of individual expression nourished the birth of the PC - and smashed the work of leading computer researchers whose ideas didn't fit the paradigm. June 10, 2005 03:41 AM