Raising Collective IQ

There is an illuminating and little known connection between the father of modern computing and the discipline of history mapping.  In 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart stunned onlookers when he sat in front of the “computer screen” that was hooked up to a keyboard and the world’s first mouse (made of mahogany, which Engelbart patented) and his computer in Silicon Valley was connected by cable to another computer in San Francisco for the world’s first-ever video conference   This came to be known as the “mother of all demos” and Engelbart’s place in history was made—In the year 2000 he received the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton. So what does that have to do with mapping?

Few understand Engelbart’s reason for his amazing inventions:  He believed that if everyone had access to well-organized information from different disciplines, they would raise their collective IQ (his term from back in the early 1960s) and do a better job of solving the pressing problems of the world.  He had the idea of a “dynamic knowledge repository” – no, not like today’s knowledge bases but rather an elegant combination of what we today call blogs, wikis, networks, online documents, conversation spaces, search engines…but organized in a way that, alas, it is not today.  Engelbart talked about the id ea of “facilitated co-evolution” (note: the cameraman at the 1968 was Stewart Brand who went on to found the Whole Earth Catalogue and Coevolutionary Quarterly).  The idea was that tools and people would co-evolve by the use of visually organized dynamic information.

Fellow computer inventor Alan Kay said that Engelbart was like an “old Testament prophet” foreshadowing the future — but the dream had yet to be realized as of 2007, almost 40 years since the 1968 demo.

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A key feature of Engelbart’s dynamic knowledge repository is this:  A “facilitator” would view the information in a dynamic knowledge repository, and because of the high level of information organization in many ways (“multiple views of information”), this facilitator would be able to find the “edges” of ideas across disciplines and map those idea in such a way that patterns and consistencies would emerge.  Meta-level patterns across disciplines would enable people to “see” future trends.

Here’s is the little known connection:  Original founders and staff of Institute for the Future were with Engelbart at SRI during the 1968 Demo at SRI (then Stanford Research Institute). They were privy to the elaborate logic about how and why to make information more “visible”.  Some of the secret sauce for futures forecasting may have come from Engelbart’s original recipe for raising collective IQ.

Engelbart’s hope was that the Web would enable what he called the “CODIAK” process — “concurrently develop, integrate, and act on knowledge.” We are beginning to get there with vast improvements in information visualization and collaboration tools. Perhaps in Engelbart’s lifetime (he’s 82 at this writing) we will see dynamic knowledge repositories in action with people working.

Meanwhile, we have the old-fashioned medium of big paper create, share, and learn from information maps, thanks to Michael Doyle, David Sibbet and other pioneers of graphic facilitation.