Tribute to a hero of boosting humankind’s collective intelligence

Doug Engelbart died. My gratitude to Doug is more alive then ever. At the time of receiving this sad news, there were 2,310,000 webpages referencing “collective intelligence,” the science of which he was one of the first and most influential pioneer.

I was introduced to Doug by Howard Rheingold in 1987, when I was a journalist with Computer Currents, a magazine in Calfornia, where I wrote a column on technovisionaries and socially significant applications of emergent technologies. Researching my stories put me in touch with maverick entrepreneurs, academics, social activists, inventors, and most of the interviews enlarged my horizon of what is possible, in terms of how advanced technologies can serve human aspirations.

engelbart 1987Talking with Doug was not an exception, but it was much more than the usual, excited exchange between two people thinking on the edge.  To me, that interview was literally a life-changing event. Subsequently, Doug became my mentor, and many of the main ideas of my work on collective intelligence, knowledge ecology, and virtual environments, in the last 25 years, have been inspired by his work.

What fired up my imagination and stirred my soul the most, and what makes the Engelbart revolution a still unfinished one, is a few lines from his 1972 essay, the Coordinated Information Services for a Discipline- or Mission-Oriented Community, where he wrote about

“providing a new evolutionary stage for the nervous system of social organisms, from which much more highly developed institutional forms may evolve that are much improved in:

awareness of self and environment, situational cognizance and response, visualization of the future, problem-solving capability, etc.”

Taking his vision to the scale of the largest social organism we know, humankind itself, we can access the path of the planetary metabeing awakening to its collective wisdom and sentience. That path is paved by networked communities of of practice, or as Doug called them Networked Improvements Communities engaged in driving the intertwining double helix of human and tool system.

Doug is gone but his vision is growing in potency with every new tool for augmenting our collective intelligence and, even more so, with every new person dedicating her/his lifework to close the gap between the “galloping complexity multiplied by urgency”(Engelbart) and our capacity to befriend and democratize it. This blog is an invitation to share that journey, as our homage to Doug Engelbart.

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