Tim Hayes, Software Engineer

If, in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that?

This is how Douglas Engelbart introduced his 100 min presentation at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in December 1968. It was the first public demonstration of a computer mouse, hyperlinks, real-time text editing, multiple and resizable windows, shared-screen collaboration, and video conferencing. It is considered the dawn of interactive and personal computing, marking the end of the punch card era. Today, this presentation is affectionately known as the “Mother of all demos.” If you haven’t seen it, here’s a YouTube playlist of highlight cuts and for the ambitious, here’s the full presentation.

The system showcased in this presentation is the result of several years of research carried out by Engelbart and his research team in the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center at Stanford Research Institute. In his seminal 1962 paper, “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework,” Engelbart explains:

By “augmenting human intellect” we mean increasing the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension to suit his [or her] particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems.

The goal of their research was to improve the effectiveness of individuals at intellectual tasks. To “augment human intellect.” Beyond the technology or the historical importance of this “Mother of all demos,” it’s this user centred focus of their mission that really resonates with me. These days it can be so easy to get lost in business directives, flashy new features, or technical constraints that many projects lose sight of what really matters: people. The users.

At NGRAIN, in our own little corner of the enterprise augmented reality space, we strive to approach our work in a similar manner to Engelbart and his team. We feel that technology, first and foremost, needs to enhance its user’s capabilities.

This notion rests at the core of our mission to, “deliver the right information at the right time on the right device – enhancing the performance of people, machines, and the interactions between them.” Whether it be providing point-of-need access to back end databases, connecting with an off-site expert, or providing step-by-step guidance of maintenance procedures, the ultimate goal is to improve the effectiveness of our users. We strive to do more than augment reality. We’re looking to improve the effectiveness of people; to create more efficient workers. Humans with an “augmented intellect”.

So, I leave you with this to consider:
If, out in the field or on the factory floor, you were supplied with a mobile device that instantly provided you any and all of the information you required to suit your particular needs, how much value could you derive from that?