The Mother of All Demos

Sep 8, 2021

In 1968, some researchers from Stanford Research Institute (SRI) gave a demo of some of the computer work they had been developing. SRI was a Fred Terman initiative (see: History of Silicon Valley 1891-1956) and quasi-independent research lab that did work that didn't entirely fall under faculty work.

Inspired by Vannevar Bush's As We May Think, Doug Englebart and his colleagues demoed new computer functionality that had never been seen before. They wanted to make Bush's memex a reality. Unfortunately, many of these inventions would take a decade to make it to commercial viability (namely, graphical user interfaces developed by Microsoft and Apple in the 1980s).

  • The computer mouse
  • Graphical User Interfaces and windowing
  • Word processing
  • Hyperlinks
  • Collaborative real-time editing (the demo was in San Francisco's Civic Auditorium, and two custom modems connected the demo site to a lab in Menlo Park)
  • Video conferencing

Without further ado, here's a shortened 5-minute highlight reel of the demo. If you're interested, here's the full one-hour+ version.

"We're going to try our best to show you, rather than tell you about this program"

Wondering what the buzzing noises are in the video? If you look closely, there's a device that Englebart is using to manipulate the computer in addition to a mouse and keyboard. It's called a Chorded Keyboard. The idea was that you would enter commands by pressing certain buttons together, like a musical chord on the piano. I suppose the modern-day equivalent is the modifier keys on a keyboard (e.g., shift, alt, control, etc.)

The Xerox Alto keyset 1973