Augmentation Research Center

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Augmentation Research Center
IndustryComputer software
Computer hardware
Founded1960s (1960s)
FounderDouglas Engelbart
ParentSRI International

SRI International's Augmentation Research Center (ARC) was founded in the 1960s by electrical engineer Douglas Engelbart to develop and experiment with new tools and techniques for collaboration and information processing.

The main product to come out of ARC was the revolutionary oN-Line System, better known by its abbreviation, NLS. ARC is also known for the invention of the "computer mouse" pointing device, and its role in the early formation of the Internet.

Engelbart recruited workers and ran the organization until the late 1970s when the project was commercialized and sold to Tymshare, which was eventually purchased by McDonnell Douglas.[1]


Some early ideas by Douglas Engelbart were developed in 1959 funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (now Rome Laboratory).[2] By 1962, a framework document was published.[3]

J. C. R. Licklider, the first director of the United States Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO), funded the project in early 1963. First experiments were done trying to connect a display at SRI to the massive one-of-a-kind AN/FSQ-32 computer at the System Development Corporation in Santa Monica, California.[2]

NASA funding[edit]

NASA began to provide major funding at the behest of Robert Taylor in 1964. A custom graphical workstation was built around a commercial computer, the CDC 160A, and a CDC 3100, which handled a single user at a time. In 1965, Taylor became IPTO director, leading to increased funding. In 1968 an SDS 940 computer running the Berkeley Timesharing System allowed multiple users.

The project was first called ARNAS after the sponsors. For a few years it was then called the Augmented Human Intellect Research Center, which got shortened to the Augmentation Research Center around 1969.[4]

The Mother of All Demos[edit]

During a 90-minute session at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in December 1968, Engelbart, Bill English, Jeff Rulifson and other ARC staffers presented their work in a live demonstration, including real-time video conferencing and interactive editing in an era when batch processing was still the paradigm for using computers. This was later called "the Mother of All Demos".

Reference library service[edit]

Engelbart had volunteered ARC to provide the first reference library service on the ARPANET while it was being designed. The first message sent on ARPANET was between the ARC computer and UCLA. Larry Roberts continued to fund the ARC through DARPA IPTO until he left in 1974. The library service evolved into the Internet Network Information Center managed by Elizabeth J. Feinler. Bertram Raphael was put in charge of the project in 1976.

Sale to Tymshare[edit]

The technology was sold to Tymshare in 1977, with 20 members of the former SRI group (including Engelbart) becoming Tymshare employees.[4] Only about three or four people were left to continue the NIC, although this group grew quickly along with the Internet. Jon Postel left in 1977 to join the Information Sciences Institute.[5] A number of early participants moved on to careers at Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, and other leading computer companies.

Tymshare renamed the software Augment and offered it as a commercial service via its new Office Automation Division. At Tymshare, Engelbart soon found himself marginalized and relegated to obscurity. Operational concerns at Tymshare overrode Engelbart's desire to do further research. Various executives, first at Tymshare and later at McDonnell Douglas, which acquired Tymshare in 1984, expressed interest in his ideas, but never committed the funds or the people to further develop them. His interest inside of McDonnell Douglas was focused on the enormous knowledge management and IT requirements involved in the life cycle of an aerospace program, which served to strengthen Engelbart's resolve to motivate the information technology arena toward global interoperability and an open hyperdocument system.[6] Engelbart retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1986, determined to pursue his work free from commercial pressure.

Books about ARC[edit]

The complex story of the rise and fall of ARC has been documented in a book by sociologist Thierry Bardini.[7] From the perspective of the 1960s counter-culture revolution, John Markoff, in his book What the Dormouse Said, also follows Englebart's persistence in creating ARC as not only a collection of talented off-beat engineers working in direct contrast to the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory nearby, but also as a sociological experiment that constructed and tested methods for group creation and design.[8]

ARC was also indirectly covered in many other books about Xerox PARC, since that is where many ARC employees later fled to (and brought some of Engelbart's ideas with them). Taylor had founded the Computer Systems Laboratory at PARC in 1970.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Whitaker, Randall. "Historical Background to CSCW and Groupware: Engelbart's Vision of IT-Driven Organizational Integration". Enola Gaia. Retrieved 2012-02-24.
  2. ^ a b Douglas C. Englebart (June 1986). "The Augmented Knowledge Workshop". Proceedings of the ACM Conference on the History of Personal Workstations. Palo Alto, California: ACM: 73–83. doi:10.1145/12178.12184. ISBN 0-89791-176-8. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
  3. ^ Douglas C. Engelbart (October 1962). "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework". SRI Summary Report AFOSR-3223; SRI Project No. 3578. Archived from the original on 2011-05-04. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
  4. ^ a b Interview conducted by Judy Adams and Henry Low (December 19, 1986 – April 1, 1987). "Douglas Engelbart". Stanford and the Silicon Valley Oral History Interviews. Stanford University. Archived from the original on 20 April 2011. Retrieved April 19, 2011.
  5. ^ Interviewed by Marc Weber (September 10, 2009). "Oral History of Elizabeth (Jake) Feinler" (PDF). Reference no: X5378.2009. Computer History Museum. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 11, 2011. Retrieved April 20, 2011.
  6. ^ "About OHS - Doug Engelbart Institute".
  7. ^ Thierry Bardini (2000). Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-3723-1.
  8. ^ John Markoff (2006). What the Dormouse Said. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-303676-0.

Further reading[edit]