"The as yet undreamt of things that will be displayed"

Posted on by Ari Bader-Natal

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Studio Sketchpad was named after the two web technologies on which the application is built: the Sketch from Processing and the Pad from EtherPad. (The Studio metaphor used throughout the site was inspired by the writings of John Seely Brown, which I'll save for another post.)

I'm embarrassed to say that when I chose the name, I was unfamiliar with Ivan Sutherland's massively influential Sketchpad program, described in his 1963 PhD dissertation at MIT. Sutherland demonstrated a new type of human-computer interaction, in which a person could create and manipulate graphical constructs by pointing a light pen at the computer display. The drawing programs on your brand-new iPad can't do half of what this program did almost 50 years ago. Several video recordings of demonstrations of the system have recently found their way online, so you can see it for yourself.

I should have learned about Sutherland's Sketchpad program years ago. What other landmark systems am I still totally unaware of? Are students in computer science programs introduced to the defining systems in various sub-fields? Personally, I would have found a course on the history of influential computer systems to be a fascinating introduction to the discipline.