Sketchpad (1963) is a computer program developed by Ivan Sutherland for his PhD thesis. The sketchpad uses a revolutionary concept, using light pen to draw on screens and thus acting as a communication method with the computer. Sutherland had found a way to interpret information drawn directly on a display mechanism in place of entering codes or formulas using keyboards or punch cards. So, this graphical interface based innovation could potentially shift the paradigm of using computers with batch processing to online. This is the beginning of the Graphical User Interface.
In 1968, if it is inexpensive then sketchpad could have found itself applied in tons of scenarios due to its powerful features. As its basic input it can draw a straight line or a circle arc. But what makes this creation amazing is it allows perfect implementation of horizontal and vertical lines, perpendicular and parallel lines which can be copied, moved, rotated and resized. With these features, any arbitrary symbols can be assembled from the rudimentary line segments and circular arcs. However, this is not the end to it. These symbols themselves once generated can be saved for future use. We can copy, move, rotate or resize them. We can combine them with other saved symbols to realize complex graphics. This means rough sketches can lead to more reliable and accurate automation of repetitive design which is impossible to achieve manually.
In fact, Sutherland himself while talking about the inspiration to develop Sketchpad, provide a glimpse to its potential. He said he could read blueprints in his school days. He used to jacket his notebooks with his father’s design. But he had neither the manual dexterity nor the patience to make them. He admits, he would have made a mess. So, this program is for someone like him who can read blueprints, have beautiful imaginations and have a desire to etch a perfect design but lacked the perfect hands. This technology would empower them to develop something magnificent from their rough sketches. It will make computers accessible to artists and designers while abstracting the processing for the programmers. However, it costs a whopping $100,000. This almost immediately rules out most of the individuals and small scale industries.
Nevertheless, it can be lucrative to some big companies in electrical and mechanical fields. A big company employing hundreds of people can use this cutting edge technology to boost their performance. One of the main advantages that this machine could offer to them is automation. A tedious copying task would shift from slow and sloppy human to computer. It would also offer more feasible access to past projects. A modifiable version of previous design would exist. They could build on previous designs, implement last moment changes, and frequently update the design. A small change in one of the portion would not require the whole design to be redrawn and redefined. But these are small apples compared to the fact that it may one day define the industry. So, the companies need to invest to reshape themselves. To adjust themselves to the dynamic of the society and technology. The sheer potential this machine has can redefine how the industry culture is going to look like in the future. So, the companies need to understand, use and train their employees to use this machine. They would want to safeguard themselves from being extinct due to their inflexibility. Also some of the universities might have invested in this technology to understand, train, improve and design better and cheaper alternatives to the machine. Companies which repeatedly updated their design. Change in parent changes instances.
Sketchpad was a general purpose system and its application include electrical, scientific, mathematical and even artistic purposes. The very notion of creating instances from a parent sketch made it easy to augment Sketchpad’s vocabulary and made it useful for various kinds of problems. But in Sutherland’s own word, Sketchpad itself was not very useful. The ordinary engineers could not afford it. But it was a demonstration of what potential machines bear and that is why it was valuable. This value it borne would have brought ripples to the system. In fact, Sketchpad shaped the basics of the Graphical User Interface we still use today. It influenced Douglas Engelbart who envisioned a computer interface we know and use today and developed its rudimentary version. Alan Kay also mentions being influenced by it and his vision for Object Oriented Programming. It would have redefined computer as integral part in industry. It would have made automation more influential in industry. Leading to high productivity, high quality (alleviates error associated with a human being, do not fatigue), high flexible (adding a new task requires training for human, robots can be programmed to do any task).