Augmenting Human Intellect

April 4, 2017 | | Comments Off on Augmenting Human Intellect

“The First Mouse Plugged Into Its Display Workstation circa 1964.”Digital Image. Doug Engelbart Institute. Accessed March 16, 2017.

Engelbart’s small research teams worked at display stations to experiment with different devices that would work to display objects on screen. These teams constructed several kinds of prototypes that featured a moving cursor that could select something on screen, but even this did not satisfy Engelbart’s desire for something even more efficient, or “high-performance” [1]. After his idea about a small device that the movement of wheels, when sent to the computer, could calculate a two-dimensional area, which in turn could track movements on the screen [2].

Based on Engelbart’s notes on this idea, Engelbart’s colleague Bill English, the lead engineer of the team, was able to build a prototype of the device using a wooden box with wheels which became the original prototype of the computer mouse [3]. (For more information on Bill English, visit the “People of the Mouse” page here-

What Bill English created was “a large, hand-held wooden box with a single button, and wheels attached to internal pentiometers” [4]. The wheels at the bottom of the box sat at right angels to each other, which allowed the mouse to move as the vertical wheel rolled on the surface and the horizontal wheel rolled sideways [5]. This was the first prototype of the mouse and was indeed what Engelbart deemed “high-performance” [6]. But this and other early prototypes of the mouse were twice as tall as the mice of today and had three buttons on top of it [7]. In the selection experiments that the team performed, however, this early version of the mouse was still successful. The team described it as, “it just happened to win everything” [8]. After this the other experimental tools were abandoned and the mouse was selected for further work.

“The Augment System” refers to the way in which the computer mouse became more entwined with the development of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) which is the control of computer operations through the use of “icons” instead of text demands [9]. This makes sense, as the invention of the mouse made further exploration of this system possible. Interesting enough, the invention of the mouse, however, preceded the invention of GUI by almost a decade [10]. Engelbart designed this system, and named it “Augmentation of Human Intellect, “as part of a large-scale, long-term, visionary project to enable humans to get the most benefit from computing technology” [11].  This prototype system (shown in the image above) used a three button mouse, a keyboard and a chordset (an input device made of piano-esque keys) [12]. The mouse was so important because it was part of this larger system that allowed the manipulation of on-screen text.

Continue on to the “Mother of All Demos” page to learn the next piece of Doug and his team’s story!




  1. Living History: The Doug Engelbart Archive. Doug Engelbart Institute. Accessed February 20, 2017.  
  2. Atkinson, Paul. “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: The Computer Mouse in the History of Computing.” Design Issues 23, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 47.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Atkinson, Paul. “The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: The Computer Mouse in the History of Computing.” Design Issues 23, no. 3 (Summer 2007): 47.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Edwards, Benji. “The Computer Mouse Turns 40.” Macworld, December 9, 2008. Accessed February 20, 2017. 40.html
  7. Ibid, 47
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid, 48.
  12. Ibid.