Formulative/Formulated Exercise around NLS/Augment

In Dr J.C.R. Licklider’s “Man-Machine Symbiosis” paper, he describes two different kinds of thinking processes which he terms “Formulative” and “Formulated”. In his abstract he says “The main aims [of man-computer symbiosis] are 1) to let computers facilitate formulative thinking as they now facilitate the solution of formulated problems, and 2) to enable men and computers to cooperate in making decisions and controlling complex situations without inflexible dependence on predetermined programs.” Later in section two of the paper, he states “One of the main aims of man-computer symbiosis is to bring the computing machine effectively into the formulative parts of technical problems.”

“Formulative” thinking involves developing questions, hypotheses, identifying models and procedures which could be used, etc. “Formulated” thinking means following defined procedures and algorithms to work out the details, to verify or refute the hypotheses, to carry out the tasks which can be reduced to a pre-defined routine. “Formulative” thinking sets up the problem; “Formulated” thinking “turns the crank”, doing the necessary detail work which is required to make the problem solution clear or obvious. Licklider describes this most effectively in section four of his paper.

In the various instructions for “Concept Experience #2”, such as the ones at Team Zoetrope and Team Innov8, students were instructed to choose an obvious statement to analyze (“Analyze the obvious”) or one related to digital media, perhaps related to possible topics for their Inquiry Project. I’m going to take a similar but slightly different approach. I’m very interested in various aspects of Dr Engelbart’s NLS/Augment system, so I’m going to formulate some questions concerning it, and then use the computer to help me answer those questions and gather information which will help me formulate new/additional/better questions. Since I want to limit the exercise to a little over an hour, I’ll do what I can within a reasonable time limit rather than try to answer the questions completely. Since the purpose of the exercise is to observe and experience the difference between the two types of thinking, I’ll focus attention and time on observing my thinking and how the information presented by the computer assists, rather than solely on the questions and answers related to NLS/Augment. (For expansion later, I consider this one form of “Focused Inquiry”.)

OK, time-check: Starting at about ten minutes before the hour.

Initial questions:

  • “What is NLS/Augment?”
  • “What key features did it implement?”
  • “Where can key information about it be found?”
  • “What key artifacts (documentation, examples, demos, papers, videos, etc.) are available which provide details?”

Let’s start with a Google search for “NLS/Augment”, and expect to follow a link to Wikipedia very early on.

Sure enough, Google shows Wikipedia as the first hit. Opening each useful-looking hit in a new tab, and numbering them in order, we have:

Now it’s time to pick a tab, and see what it contains and where it leads…

Link 2 (Wikipedia) contains a lot of useful info. It provides a brief description of NLS, discusses its development with mentions of people and equipment involved, has a very good outline summary of “Firsts”, and has a section on “Decline and Succession”. There are also several (around 6) links to external references. Much to digest here, and the names and terminology would also be useful to enter into Google to perform a search very much like this one, to gather information on several of the subtopics. This page does a decent job of answering my first two questions (What is NLS/Augment? What key features did it implement?) with a top-level summary.

There are about 14 source references, and a BUNCH of references within Wikipedia. The external references include

Link 3, “About NLS/Augment” contains six meaty paragraphs which describe the development of NLS and Augment, point to multiple papers and references, and point ahead to information on the OHS (Open Hyperdocument System) and HyperScope. It points to two key papers on NLS/Augment, five key papers on OHS and Hyperscope, and also a complete bibliography of works by Douglas Engelbart and his staff. These will go a long way to answering my questions “Where can key information about it be found?” “What key artifacts (documentation, examples, demos, papers, videos, etc.) are available which provide details?” Of particular interest among the links are:

There’s also a reference to Link 2,, which is the first cycle (circular reference) I have found so far during this search.

Link 4, “NLS/Augment Index”, contains a treasure-trove of references. Among other items, it has a section discussing a system clone and the source code, and efforts to make them public. There is also an extensive bibliography of papers by Engelbart and others. This bibliography should be compared to the one at the site (link 17 above) to identify any unique items to be read. There is also a section on photographs and films. This page is another key resource which answers “What key artifacts (documentation, examples, demos, papers, videos, etc.) are available which provide details?”

Link 5 describes the 1968 demo as a series of 35 video clips in flash format, each annotated with a brief description of what that clip contains. There is also a 100-minute flash video of the whole thing. It also has a jpg image of the original announcement of the demo.

This link therefore provides a partial answer to the artifacts question: video clips and annotations.

From link 6, the vimeo posting was by “Brad Neuberg”, and cites the blog location

Not much more here; I open that link in a new tab and plan to explore it further.

Link 7 provides about a page of description of NLS, points to a biography of Douglas Engelbart and his invention of the mouse, mentions Vannevar Bush and “As We May Think”, links to Engelbart’s paper “Augmenting Human Intellect”, mentions the 1968 demo and associated papers (capture these!), and mentions the relationship to the ARPANET.

I followed the link to Roberts/Arpanet, because “Roberts” is MY name! The page discusses Larry Roberts, who is considered the “father of the internet”. The page also talks about Licklider and others involved at MIT and elsewhere. Interesting! Slightly off topic, so I’d best not pursue this branch further right now. (I’m “pruning the search”.) Save the link for future exploration for fun.

On link 8, there is a link to “Table of Contents” which leads to

That page shows the entire document concerns the development of hypertext and GUI systems, lists many other systems, and seems to contain a good overview of the field. This is worth exploring in more detail later; I decide to save the link for exploration at a later time.

On link 9, there is a description with links to all 9 videos of the demo, and further information at other sites. There are also 330 comments, some of which may contain useful pointers to other resources.
The links outbound include:

These are all worth exploring later: in answer to my question about where more information can be found, I now have pointers to the entire demo in video form, a site with an annotated version, and a pointer to a site with more information. I also note that the last link is again to “”. That seems (somewhat obviously!) to be a key resource site; I should probably do an extensive exploration of that site later on.

So now I’ve explored one-deep across the first page of Google’s search results, including the Wikipedia entry. I have preliminary answers to all my questions, and several pages of pointers to lots more details. A time-check shows I’ve spent one hour and twenty minutes so far, so it’s a good time to cut this exercise off and think about what happened.

I was expecting to formulate some new and additional questions during my exploration, but my breadth-first search strategy across the first page of links I found used up all my time. Aha! That’s (in part) why the course instructors suggested following a link, seeing where that lead, and in essence performing a depth-first search. That approach is more likely to trigger a need to re-formulate the questions being explored, within the timeframe of the exercise. My re-formulation is happening now, after the (artificial) time limit for the search is up.

Given what I found and observed, I now can formulate several new questions. It’s valuable to notice that my initial questions were mostly answered: as I search more in the future I will continue to accumulate additional pointers to artifacts to study, but I already have a pretty good list. So given what I’ve learned, what new questions come to mind?

  • What key concepts were Engelbart and others consciously intending to incorporate into NLS/Augment?
  • What is mentioned in the audio or video (1968 demo especially) which clarifies or provides additional insight into the written descriptions of the concepts?
  • How does Doug’s 1968 demo differ from the 2005-timeframe screencasts?
  • What particular points do the modern screencasts highlight, in contrast to the older documentation and videos?
  • The screencasts are informed by 1990 and 2000-era computer technology; what modern systems and techniques and software are mentioned, which didn’t exist at the time of the earlier videos and papers?

I could generate another dozen questions, but it’s already pretty clear what my next steps should be. First, I need to read and study Douglas Engelbart’s 1962 and 1968 papers, to grasp the key concepts he had at that time. Then I need to watch the video of the 1968 demo, also referencing the annotations from the page at link 5. After that I’ll have a bunch more questions and topics to explore, and will be able to generate an even better set of questions for futher inquiry.

Time-check: 110 minutes, and I still need to paste this into WordPress and fix the formatting.
Time-check: 130 minutes. I’m still not happy with the formatting, but I’m going to call it good enough for right now.

For future follow-up:

  • Write a blog post concerning “Focused Inquiry”
  • If anyone asks, write a blog post concerning search strategies (breadth-first, depth-first, and various hybrid strategies)
  • Compare the bibliographies, and generate a prioritized list of papers to read
  • Go back and thoroughly study the pages at links 2-9 to actually grasp their content, rather than just seeing what’s there and how it addresses my original questions

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