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Tech Time WarpYour Apple Pencil or Surface Pen hardly seems remarkable now—but did you know the ancestor of these styli was first introduced 59 years ago? So begins our Tech Time warp back to January 7, 1963, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD student Ivan Sutherland submitted his thesis project: “Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communications System.”

“How do you go about communicating with a computer in a graphical sense?” asks the host of this documentary on Sketchpad. Developed in 1961, the pioneering graphical user interface ran on the TX-2 at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. The TX-2 had 320 KB of memory and featured a 9-inch CRT display. With a light pen, Sutherland could draw lines on the screen and then use computer switches to control the lines’ size and ratio. (In the documentary, the ability to keep “zooming” in on an object is described as a “real nightmare scenario”—see the 11:19 mark.) A crosshair cursor allowed for precision, as well as rubber banding and snapping to an endpoint.

Following graduation from MIT, Sutherland accepted a commission in the U.S. Army and eventually found himself at the National Security Agency. At age 26, he became head of the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA. While working as a professor at Harvard in the late 1960s, he and his student Bob Sproull invented the first virtual reality and augmented reality head-mounted display system, known as the Sword of Damocles.

In recognition of his work, starting with Sketchpad, Sutherland received the A.M. Turing Award in 1988. He has more than 60 patents to his name.

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Photo:  KimSongsak / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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