Whatever Happened to “Augmenting Human Intellect”?

Whatever Happened to “Augmenting Human Intellect”?

The fundamental role of data visualization is to express information in a form more palatable to human perception than rows and columns of raw values. We are visual creatures, and visualization is a necessary tool for our brains to acquire, explore, analyze, and reason with data. Douglas Engelbart’s recent passing has me reflecting on why we do what we do, and whether or not we are fulfilling Engelbart’s goal of “augmenting human intellect.” On one hand, visualization is a technology perfectly suited to support this goal. Yet, too often, we see graphics whose inaccuracy and oversimplification is fundamentally misleading, effectively dumbing us down — the opposite of what we need. This is not just a gripe about poorly designed visuals; this is an opportunity to reevaluate the values that inform our work. How can we reframe and refocus our work on the worthy goals of visionaries like Engelbart and Vannevar Bush? With some adjustments, visualization can play a less trivial, more fundamental role within the larger domains of technology and society.


Scott Murray

October 23, 2013