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The Innovators

I just finished Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators”. It was incredible. I couldn’t put it down. For people who make their living writing software it gives a historical context to what we do. He starts with Ada Lovelace and ends with Google. Lady Lovelace’s objection (that Babbage’s Analytical Engine, and future computers, "have no power of anticipating any analytical relations or truths”) is reflected on throughout the book. He argues that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a pipe dream and computer/human interaction will be most beneficial if it is a symbiotic relationship, as Douglas Engelbart (the inventor of the mouse and modern computer interfaces) preached in 1950.


According to the book, the major innovations that allowed the information revolution to occur, were invention of the transistor and packet switching networks. He goes in-depth into the creation of the transistor and how John Bardeen (born and raised in Madison, WI) and Walter Brattain created the transistor in November 1945. It is a fascinating story of physics, electronic engineering, metal science and creativity. He also goes into depth about how Paul Baran tried for years to convince upper management at Bell Lab that a packet switching network could work. They never listened but Vince Cerf and the gang at ARPNET did. Believe it or not Al Gore did have a hand legislating the use of Internet for business.


The book contains 50 mini biographies of the people that had a hand in creating the computer technology we use on daily basis. He explains how most innovation is created by “standing on the shoulders of giants” and not in a vacuum or individually. He also has an interesting take on what makes an innovator innovative. He predicts that: “creators who can flourish where the arts intersect with the sciences and have a rebellious sense of wonder that opens them to the beauty of both.” will lead the next wave of innovation.

I agree.

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