2 October 1962
Proposal for Research
SRI No. ESU 62-85
Extension of Contract AF 49(638)-1024
AUGMENTED HUMAN INTELLECT STUDY
Headquarters Air Force Office of Scientific Research
Washington 25, D. C.
Douglas C. Engelbart
Senior Research Engineer
Systems Engineering Department
[personal signature of]
R.C. Amara, Manager
Systems Engineering Department
[personal signature of]
J.D. Noe, Director
Engineering Sciences Division
Copy No. 12
Proposal for Research ESU 62-85
Extension of Contract AF 49(638-1024)
I . INTRODUCTION
By "augmenting human intellect" we mean increasing the capability
of a man to approach a complex problem situation, to gain comprehension
to suit his particular needs, and to derive solutions to problems. Increased
capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following:
more-rapid comprehension, better comprehension, the possibility of gaining
a useful degree of comprehension in a situation that previously was too
complex, speedier solutions, better solutions, and the possibility of finding
solutions to problems that before seemed insoluble. And by "complex
situations" we include the professional problems of diplomats, executives,
social scientists, life scientists, physical scientists, attorneys, designers--whether
the problem situation exists for twenty minutes or twenty years. We do not
speak of isolated clever tricks that help in particular situations. We refer
to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles,
and the human "feel for a situation" usefully co-exist with powerful
concepts, streamlined terminology and notation, sophisticated methods, and
high-powered electronic aids.
Man's population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate,
but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency
with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response
to the increased rate of activity and the increasingly global nature of
that activity. Augmenting man's intellect, in the sense defined above, would
warrant full pursuit by an enlightened society if there could be shown a
reasonable approach and some plausible benefits.
This report covers the first phase of a program aimed at developing means
to augment the human intellect. These "means" can include many
things--all of which appear to be but extensions of means developed andused
in the past to help man apply his native sensory, mental, and motor capabilities--and
we consider the whole system of a human and his augmentation means as a
proper field of search for practical possibilities. It is a very important
system to our society, and like most systems its performance can best be
improved by considering the whole as a set of interacting components rather
than by considering the components in isolation.
This kind of system approach to human intellectual effectiveness does
not find a ready-made conceptual framework such as exists for established
disciplines. Before a research program can be designed to pursue such an
approach intelligently, so that practical benefits might be derived within
a reasonable time while also producing results of longrange significance,
a conceptual framework must be searched out--a framework that provides orientation
as to the important factors of the system, the relationships among these
factors, the types of change among the system factors that offer likely
improvements in performance, and the sort of research goals and methodology
that seem promising.1
In the first (search) phase of our program we have developed a conceptual
framework that seems satisfactory for the current needs of designing a research
phase. Section II contains the essence of this framework as derived from
several different ways of looking at the system made up of a human and his
The process of developing this conceptual framework brought out a number
of significant realizations: that the intellectual effectiveness exercised
today by a given human has little likelihood of being intelligence limited--that
there are dozens of disciplines in engineering, mathematics, and the social,
life, and physical sciences that can contribute improvements to the system
of intellect-augmentation means; that any one such improvement can be expected
to trigger a chain of coordinatingimprovements; that until every one of
these disciplines comes to a standstill and we have exhausted all the improvement
possibilities we could glean from it, we can expect to continue to develop
improvements in this human-intellect system; that there is no particular
reason not to expect gains in personal intellectual effectiveness from a
concerted systemoriented approach that compare to those made in personal
geographic mobility since horseback and sailboat days.
The picture of how one can view the possibilities for a systematic approach
to increasing human intellectual effectiveness, as put forth in Section
II in the sober and general terms of an initial basic analysis, does not
seem to convey all of the richness and promise that was stimulated by the
development of that picture. Consequently, Section III is intended to present
some definite images that illustrate meaningful possibilities deriveable
from the conceptual framework presented in Section II--and in a rather marked
deviation from ordinary technical writing, a good portion of Section III
presents these images in a fiction-dialogue style as a mechanism for transmitting
a feeling for the richness and promise of the possibilities in one region
of the improvement space" that is roughly mapped in Section II.
The style of Section III seems to make for easier reading. If Section
II begins to seem unrewardingly difficult, the reader may find it helpful
to skip from Section II-B directly to Section III. If it serves its purpose
well enough, Section III will provide a context within which the reader
can go back and finish Section II with less effort.
In Section IV (Research Recommendations) we present a general strategy
for pursuing research toward increasing human intellectual effectiveness.
This strategy evolved directly from the concepts presented in Sections II
and III; one of its important precepts is to pursue the quickest gains first,
and use the increased intellectual effectiveness thus derived to help pursue
successive gains. We see the quickest gains emerging from (1) giving the
human the minute-by-minute services of a digital computer equipped with
computer-driven cathode-ray-tube display, and (2) developing the new methods
of thinking and working that allow the human to capitalizeupon the computer's
help. By this same strategy, we recommend that an initial research effort
develop a prototype system of this sort aimed at increasing human effectiveness
in the task of computer programming.
To give the reader an initial orientation about what sort of thing this
computer-aided working system might be, we include below a short description
of a possible system of this sort. This illustrative example is not to be
considered a description of the actual system that will emerge from the
program. It is given only to show the general direction of the work, and
is clothed in fiction only to make it easier to visualize.
Let us consider an augmented architect at work. He sits at a working
station that has a visual display screen some three feet on a side; this
is his working surface, and is controlled by a computer (his "clerk"
) with which he can communicate by means of a small keyboard and various
He is designing a building. He has already dreamed up several basic layouts
and structural forms, and is trying them out on the screen. The surveying
data for the layout he is working on now have already been entered, and
he has just coaxed the clerk to show him a perspective view of the steep
hillside building site with the roadway above, symbolic representations
of the various trees that are to remain on the lot, and the service tie
points for the different utilities. The view occupies the left two-thirds
of the screen. With a "pointer," he indicates two points of interest,
moves his left hand rapidly over the keyboard, and the distance and elevation
between the points indicated appear on the right- hand third of the screen.
Now he enters a reference line with his pointer, and the keyboard. Gradually
the screen begins to show the work he is doing--a neat excavation appears
in the hillside) revises itself slightly, and revises itself again. After
a moment, the architect changes the scene on the screen to an overhead plan
view of the site, still showing the excavation. A few minutes of study,
and he enters on the keyboard a list of items, checking each one as it appears
on the screen, to be studied later.
Ignoring the representation on the display, the architect next begins
to enter a series of specifications and data--a six-inch slab floor, twelve-inch
concrete walls eight feet high within the excavation, and so on. When he
has finished, the revised scene appears on the screen. A structure is taking
shape. He examines it, adjusts it, pauses long enough to ask for handbook
or catalog information from the clerk at various points, and reacijusts
accordingly. He often recalls from the "clerk" his working lists
of specifications and considerations to refer to them, modify them, or add
to them. These lists grow into an evermore-detailed, interlinked structure,
which represents the maturing thought behind the actual design.
Prescribing different planes here and there, curved surfaces occasionally,
and moving the whole structure about five feet, he finally has the rough
external form of the building balanced nicely with the setting and he is
assured that this form is basically compatible with the materials to be
used as well as with the function of the building.
Now he begins to enter detailed information about the interior. Here
the capability of the clerk to show him any view he wants to examine (a
slice of the interior, or how the structure would look from the roadway
above) is important. He enters particular fixture designs, and examines
them in a particular room. He checks to make sure that sun glare from the
windows will not blind a driver on the roadway, and the "clerk"
computes the information that one window will reflect strongly onto the
roadway between 6 and 6:30 on midsummer mornings.
Next he begins a functional analysis. He has a list of the people who
will occupy this building, and the daily sequences of their activtites.
The "clerk" allows him to follow each in turn, examining how doors
swing, where special lighting might be needed. Finally he has the "clerk"
combine all of these sequences of activity to indicate spots where traffic
is heavy in the building, or where congestion might occur, and to determine
what the severest drain on the utilities is likely to be.
All of this information (the building design and its associated "thought
structure") can be stored on a tape to represent the design manual
for the building. Loading this tape into his own clerk, another architect,
a builder, or the client can maneuver within this design manual to pursue
whatever details or insights are of interest to him--and can append special
notes that are integrated into the design manual for his own or someone
else's later benefit.
In such a future working relationship between human problem-solver and
computer 'clerk,' the capability of the computer for executing mathematical
processes would be used whenever it was needed. However, the computer has
many other capabilities for manipulating and displaying information that
can be of significant benefit to the human in nonmathematical processes
of planning, organizing, studying, etc. Every person who does his thinking
with symbolized concepts (whether in the form of the English language, pictographs,
formal logic, or mathematics) should be able to benefit significantly.
B. OBJECTIVE OF THE STUDY
The objective of this study is to develop a conceptual framework within
which could grow a coordinated research and development program whose goals
would be the following: (1) to find the factors that limit the effectiveness
of the individual's basic information-handling capabilities in meeting the
various needs of society for problem solving in its most general sense;
and (2) to develop new techniques, procedures, and systems that will better
match these basic capabilities to the needs' problems, and progress of society.
We have placed the following specifications on this framework:
- That it provide perspective for both long-range basic research and
research that will yield practical results soon.
- That it indicate what this augmentation will actually involve in the
way of changes in working environment, in thinking, in skills, and in methods
- That it be a basis for evaluating the possible relevance of work and
knowledge from existing fields and for assimilating whatever is relevant.
- That it reveal areas where research is possible and ways to assess
the research, be a basis for choosing starting points, and indicate how
to develop appropriate methodologies for the needed research.
Two points need emphasis here. First, although a conceptual framework
has been constructed, it is still rudimentary. Further search, and actual
research, are needed for the evolution of the framework. Second, even if
our conceptual framework did provide an accurate and complete basic analysis
of the system from which stems a human's intellectual effectiveness, the
explicit nature of future improved systems would be highly affected by (expected)
changes in our technology or in our understanding of the human being.