Neon Genesis Evangelion was not, by most people's standards, a humorous piece of work, but occasionally pieces of humor shine through, usually in the form of incongruity. One of the incongruous parts that can be overlooked by the viewer is that the show features a large, militaristic bureaucracy, founded by the United Nations, and meant to investigate "meta-biology", which turns out to be a mixture of cabala and theories of xenogenesis.

This may seem like a bit of a detour, but I think it is good for explaining the impression I had when reading Douglas Engelbart's report, "Augmenting Human Intellect". Written in 1962, for a sub-department of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the report is also named: "SRI Summary Report AFOSR-3223", as well as being surrounded by other jargon. I imagine that the Air Force Office of Scientific Research had many reports issued for it, on things like the tensile strength of doorknobs, and these are now filed away somewhere. And yet this report, by Engelbart, a recent Ph.D from University California at Berkeley seems to have transcended its origins. It is actually, in large part, about "meta-biology", and has as a stated goal the advancement of human evolution towards the greater goal of a peaceful world. It combines a critical look at how the Sapir-Worf Hypothesis can be applied to technology with some visionary guesses about how computer technology can be used, many of which proved eerily accurate. It takes the concepts sketched out by Vannevar Bush in 1945 and both deepens them and provides practical examples of how they can be used, such as its initial example of what we would now call CAD.

It is also, (and this is the bad news), not the easiest thing to read ever. Part of this is just because so much conceptual information is squeezed into so small a space (which still works out to be quite lengthy), with many different areas being addressed. The report includes a basic theory of human cognition, right along with descriptions of the (1962) state of the art in information technology, and many examples of how both are used. Part of it is just that Engelbart is perhaps not the world's clearest writer. Stylistically, it is a gigantic contrast with the essay that is stated to inspire it, Bush's "As We May Think".

If this essay was just moldering away in some cabinet in the Air Force Office of Science Research's Information Science's warehouse of reports, it would not be important. But somehow, Engelbart's writing, full of sweeping hypothesis about human nature, and disjointed writing, impressed enough people that the military bureaucracy gave him enough money to fund his research. And with that money, Engelbart developed much of the visionary technology in the report. The computer mouse. The graphical user interface. And of course, what he called "the online system" (NLS), the idea that not only would computers be used to augment an individual's intellect, but would be able to augment the intellect of groups. Not everything that Engelbart wrote about in the essay would come true, but his idea of using computers to connect and augment people's intellect seems to have come much more true than anyone reading a densely written research paper for an obscure government agency could have ever guessed.

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