Inter-Web Nostalgia pt. 2
Douglas Engelbart, December, 1968
Engelbart’s model of augmentation, or H-LAM/T: Human using Language, Artifacts, Methodology, in which he is Trained:
This model is based on the Sapir-Whorf linguistic hypothesis, in which language is supposed to condition the thoughts and behaviors of its speaker community. Like Sapir-Whorf, Engelbart’s version of language is both deterministic and relativistic, but it also moves beyond linguistics to include toolmaking and education, collecting them all under the common heading ‘augmentation.’ In more philosophical terms it is a media theory, a theory of man as essentially mediatic.
In Engelbart’s system there is no artifact without a human, nor human without an artifact. Categorizing language, tools (artifacts), theory (methodology), and education (training) all as different forms of augmentation is what allows him to conceive of communication as essentially technological and all-encompassing. With the development of his NLS (oN-Line System), he invented not only the first hypertext-based multi-user computer interface (which would be selected as the second node of ARPANET), but also introduced the GUI (Graphic User Interface), the now-familiar visual grammar of windows and hypertext. Apparently the idea came from the same place all the big ideas in information and computing science came from: working radar during WWII. He also invented the mouse.
“I don’t know why we called it a mouse…it started that way, and we never did change it.”
Here‘s more Engelbart:
Our culture has evolved means for us to organize the little things we can do with our basic capabilities so that we can derive comprehension from truly complex situations, and accomplish the processes of deriving and implementing problem solutions. The ways in which human capabilities are thus extended are here called augmentation means, and we define four basic classes of them:
- Artifacts–physical objects designed to provide for human comfort, for the manipulation of things or materials, and for the manipulation of symbols.
- Language–the way in which the individual parcels out the picture of his world into the concepts that his mind uses to model that world, and the symbols that he attaches to those concepts and uses in consciously manipulating the concepts (“thinking”).
- Methodology–the methods, procedures, strategies, etc., with which an individual organizes his goal-centered (problem-solving) activity.
- Training–the conditioning needed by the human being to bring his skills in using Means 1, 2, and 3 to the point where they are operationally effective.
The system we want to improve can thus be visualized as a trained human being together with his artifacts, language, and methodology. The explicit new system we contemplate will involve as artifacts computers, and computer-controlled information-storage, information-handling, and information-display devices. The aspects of the conceptual framework that are discussed here are primarily those relating to the human being’s ability to make significant use of such equipment in an integrated system.
In amplifying our intelligence, we are applying the principle of synergistic structuring that was followed by natural evolution in developing the basic human capabilities. What we have done in the development of our augmentation means is to construct a superstructure that is a synthetic extension of the natural structure upon which it is built. In a very real sense, as represented by the steady evolution of our augmentation means, the development of “artificial intelligence” has been going on for centuries.
f. Compound Effects
Since many processes in many levels of the hierarchy are involved in the execution of a single higher-level process of the system, any factor that influences process execution in general will have a highly compounded total effect upon the system’s performance. There are several such factors which merit special attention.
Basic human cognitive powers, such as memory intelligence, or pattern perception can have such a compounded effect. The augmentation means employed today have generally evolved among large statistical populations, and no attempt has been made to fit them to individual needs and abilities. Each individual tends to evolve his own variations, but there is not enough mutation and selection activity, nor enough selection feedback, to permit very significant changes. A good, automated H-LAM/T system should provide the opportunity for a significant adaptation of the augmentation means to individual characteristics. The compounding effect of fundamental human cognitive powers suggests further that systems designed for maximum effectiveness would require that these powers be developed as fully as possible–by training, special mental tricks, improved language, new methodology.
In the automated system that we contemplate, the human should be able to draw on explicit-artifact process capability at many levels in the repertoire hierarchy; today, artifacts are involved explicitly in only the lower-order capabilities. In the future systems, for instance, it should be possible to have computer processes provide direct and significant help in his processes at many levels. We thus expect the effect of the computer in the system to be very much compounded. A great deal of richness in the future possibilities for automated H-LAM/T systems is implied here–considerably more than many people realize who would picture the computer as just helping them do the things they do now. This type of compounding is related to the reverberating waves of change discussed in Section II-A.
Another factor can exert this type of compound effect upon over-all system performance: the human’s unconscious processes. Clinical psychology seems to provide clear evidence that a large proportion of a human’s everyday activity is significantly mediated or basically prompted by unconscious mental processes that, although “natura” in a functional sense, are not rational. The observable mechanisms of these processes (observable by another, trained person) includes masking of the irrationality of the human’s actions which are so affected, so that few of us will admit that our actions might be irrational, and most of us can construct satisfying rationales for any action that may be challenged.
The problem he foresees in relation to the ‘human unconscious’ is the problem of everything his theory is forced to leave out. In tune with the rest of his logic, thinking the unconscious easily slips into social theory and the structures of communication. The H-LAM/T diagram looks something like an intersubjective version of Freud’s theory of the psyche, divided as it is into hierarchical processes traversed by energy flows.
But Freud’s internal processes are ignored, or more accurately, there is no real difference between internal and external when considered in terms of the diagram, only a relationship between two process structures through their ‘matching processes.’ Though the word ‘human’ applies to one of them, the relationship is technical, not psychological. Hence there is no hierarchy, no primary drives to be conditioned by a secondary censorship. The fundamental opposition here is not internal to a privileged process structure (man); it is found between the diagrammed man-machine relation and the ‘outside world,’ or more simply, between known and unknown (knowledge being the equivalent of its diagrammatic representation). Knowledge, the diagram, and communication link to form a technical network defined by function and interaction. This is a different sort of ontology than that of empiricism, in which there is a difference between representation and reality that requires constant testing. Here knowledge is increased by expanding the territory of the diagram, by simultaneously extending and intensifying its functionality. The old tragic theological-philosophical distinction between theory and practice breaks down. Everything is reduced to expansion. If terms like ‘human,’ ‘whole,’ ‘material,’ ‘reference’ and ‘intrinsic’ continue to exist, it is because they are useful labels for defining a network; if they have some other kind of meaning it will manifest as an externality and provocation.
part one here