Milestones:"Mother of All Demos"

From IEEE Milestones Wiki


Public Demonstration of Online Systems and Personal Computing, 1968


Commonly termed the "Mother of All Demos," Douglas Engelbart and his team demonstrated their oNLine System (NLS) at Brooks Hall in San Francisco on 9 December 1968. Connected via microwave link to the host computer and other remote users at SRI in Menlo Park, the demonstration showcased many fundamental technologies that would become ubiquitous, including collaborative online editing, hypertext, video conferencing, word processing, spell checking, revision control, and the mouse.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the Milestone Plaque Sites

37.4576055, -122.1766375999, Stanford Research Institute lobby, 333 Ravenswood Ave., Menlo Park, CA 94025 37.4576055, -122.176637599, and possibly also at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (former Brooks Hall), 99 Grove St., San Francisco, CA 94102

Details of the physical location of the plaque

Wall, in lobby, ground floor entrance.

How the intended plaque site is protected/secured

Open to public during normal business hours.

Historical significance of the work

Helping catalyze a fundamental switch in the way computers are used, i.e. as communication and knowledge navigation devices rather than primarily for calculation. A variety of technologies were shown in this demo that made their way into later computing systems - video conferencing, hypertext, collaborative editing, mice, GUIs, etc. Many of these would go on to influence the Xerox PARC Alto and later the Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

The phrase "Mother of All Demos" has entered the vernacular in reference to this event, and especially when used in the computing community, is recognized as referring to this event. "Demo" in this case being short for "demonstration" (as opposed to "demolition," which it can mean in civil engineering or architectural contexts).

The practical obstacles were getting funding for such radical ideas, assembling the world-class hardware and software engineers needed to make them a reality, and developing the actual software and hardware given that most of the main elements needed to be invented or at developed from scratch. The main obstacle, however, was one of attitude: the mainstream computer science community and industry of the era did not see communication and knowledge navigation as a practical or cost-effective application for computers

Features that set this work apart from similar achievements

It's difficult to think of any comparable achievements; this short demo gave a (working) glimpse of the major end-user computing technologies of the next twenty-five-plus years.

Significant references

The demo itself, on youtube: Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework (D. Engelbart, 1962, a predecessor to the Demo): The paper for the demo ("A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect "): John Markoff, What the Dormouse Said, 2005 (book), excerpt: Obituary by John Markoff: Memorial article at the Computer History Museum: Fellow Award page at Computer History Museum:,Engelbart/ Permanent exhibition at Computer History Museum: Guide to the ARC/NIC records: Video of memorial event: Stanford event 1999, "Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution." Video of event at, URL for 1 of over 20 segments: Video at Stanford event celebrating Engelbart 2008: Oral history interview of Engelbart by John Markoff: The Douglas Engelbart Institute page on the demo: Wired article: Invisible Revolution, Web documentary on Douglas Engelbart: Conference Announcement Flyer (attached) "The Mother of All Demos", Salamanca, Claudia, Proceedings of the Digital Arts and Culture Conference, 2009, deconstructing the presentation and its impact

Supporting materials