The Invention of the Computer Mouse
The Air Force Office of Scientific Research provided early support to a principal architect of the computer revolution.
AFRL's Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Arlington, VA
In the early 1960's, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) awarded a contract to Dr. Doug Englebart at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) for his research on augmenting human intellect and the potential of computers to assist people in complex decision making (see Figure 1). With the combined AFOSR and SRI monetary support, Dr. Englebart was able to perform his research full time and produce a report entitled, "Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework." The report, published in 1962, serves as a roadmap for developing computer technologies. Dr. Engelbert believed that the complexity of problems facing mankind was growing faster than the ability to solve them. He envisioned problem solvers using computer-aided workstations to augment their decision making. They would also require the ability to interact with information displays using some sort of device to move a cursor on the screen.
In his report, Dr. Engelbart provides the reader with a futuristic insight into the computer age. He envisioned the development of an auxiliary device "that is held like a pencil and, instead of a point, has a special sensing mechanism that you can pass over a line of the special printing from your writing machine (or one like it). The signals which this reading stylus sends through the flexible connecting wire to the writing machine are used to determine which characters are being sensed and thus, to cause the automatic typing of a duplicate string of characters. An information-storage mechanism in the writing machine permits you to sweep the reading stylus over the characters much faster than the writer can type; the writer will catch up with you when you stop to think about what word or string of words should be duplicated next, or while you reposition the straightedge guide along which you run the stylus." Today the device is known as a mouse.
The first computer mouse was invented in 1963-64 as part of an experiment to find better ways to "point and click" on a display screen. Due to space restrictions, the first mouse (see Figure 2) had only one button and was carved out of wood. An improved mouse eventually contained three buttons—an upgrade that was limited due to space required for the three microswitches.
A bonus feature, as Dr. Engelbart describes it, would be a common working structure so that individuals, as part of a team, can work on the same project simultaneously. "The whole team can join forces at a moment's notice to pull together on some stubborn little problem, or to make a group decision." He called it intercommunication via computer; today it is called networking.
Dr. Englebart's report is filled with concepts that have materialized and fueled the information age. As the inventor of the mouse and scores of computer-related innovations, Dr. Engelbart has a thirty-year track record in predicting, designing, and implementing the future direction of organizational computing.