Engelbart’s Law Explained

“The better we get at getting better, the faster we will get better.” This was quoted by Douglas Carl Engelbart, a key pioneer of the kind of computing we do today – interactive, graphic and personal. Engelbart’s contribution to the IT sector is immense, Engelbart’s law being one of the most significant. Engelbart’s Law is the observation that the intrinsic rate of human performance is exponential.

Dr. Douglas Engelbart conceived and demonstrated a constellation of technological breakthroughs in the 1960’s that ushered in personal and networked computing, earning him the 2000 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the 1997 MIT-Lemelson prize, an honorary doctorate degree from Yale University, and other top honors. It has been written about Doug, “In a single stroke he had what might be safely called a complete vision of the information age.” He is best known for his work on founding the field of human–computer interaction, which resulted in creation of the computer mouse, and the development of hypertext, networked computers, and precursors to graphical user interfaces. His vision was to augment human performance by “Bootstrapping” which means the ability to improve by improvements. In simple words getting better and better. He believed the most effective way to solve problems was to develop ways of building collective intelligence. He coined the term “Collective IQ” as a measure of our collective intelligence, the measure of how well people can work on important problems and opportunities collectively.  

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Engelbart’s law had the following implications:

  • Digital technology would become increasingly miniaturized and affordable.
  • Its injection into all levels of business and society would become increasingly widespread and rapid.
  • This would cause a disruptive ripple effect in society like never seen before– on a scale more massive than the introduction of fire, written language, agriculture, bronze, printing press and industry combined, all in a significantly compressed time frame — shifting us onto an unsustainable trajectory where important challenges are becoming increasingly complex and urgent, with potentially disastrous consequences to humanity and the planet if this phenomenon is not well understood and adequately addressed. 
  • Our organizations and institutions, which steer the boat we are all on, are trying to get smarter and faster to stay ahead of the curve; however the vast majority are severely underestimating the magnitude and speed of the curve, and thus are aiming too low, too slow; meanwhile the stakes keep getting higher.
  • It is no longer an option to get incrementally smarter and faster; organizations must become exponentially more intelligent and agile, using successive gains in Collective IQ to accelerate progress toward that goal; those that lag will be rendered increasingly ineffective.

Gordon Moore later conducted intensive research and after several experiments plotted and proved Engelbart’s law and thus Moore’s law came into existence which was an improvisation of Engelbart’s law backed by proper scientific proofs and not just intuition or observation.

Engelbart believed that in order to create a better world, we need to Bootstrap our collective IQ. He believed it is critical for the survival of our race on this planet.