Books, Non-Fiction, Reviews

THE INNOVATORS by Walter Isaacson

There is no doubt that the computer and the internet are two of the most important innovations of our era. Without them, I would not have written this, and you won’t be reading this either. In spite of that, computers should be considered only the second most important innovation, as important as Gutenberg’s wooden printing press. Accessible to most, easy to learn, part and parcel of everyone’s life nowadays.

Walter Isaacson’s recently published THE INNOVATORS takes a reader back in the times of Romantic Era or Romanticism, during which much emphasis was given to the artistic and literary originators. One of the key figures of that era was Lord Gordon Byron whose daughter turned out to be one of the first to acknowledge of what we today call ‘Technology’. Ada Lovelace, is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this she is often called the world’s first computer programmer.

Replica of Analytical Engine

The book tracks the stories in a  linear perspective, from the 19th century– Lovelace and Babbage to  Alan Turing, ENIAC, John Von Neumann,  to Ethernet and Xerox, to Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Linus Trovalds, Tim Berners- Lee, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. He covers almost all of these people and how their creativity helped them harness not only their goals, but also the clear and visible difference brought in an entire culture of people as well as formulating the digital era. Many of their innovations are now important aspect of an individual’s thinking, his actions and his overall growth. Imagine, the usual life without internet. This is a story of individuals with brilliant ideas. There is sometimes collaboration of people, sometimes when people work on their own and yet at the end of it all, the reader is left with more clarity on them and the various eras in which different ideas were shaped and formed.

There have been countless books written on the digital era, the one that constitute us as segments but  Walter Isaacson’s book is different in the sense that he takes a complete look at the innovators, the geniuses, the hackers, and the geeks and what they did and did not do to make their contributions in the digital era. The Innovators is a book which looks at everything, right from the start, to the middle and the future of entrepreneurs and creative geniuses.

Along with her love for machines, Ada Lovelace is the first known specimen of “Poetical Science”, a term used by Isaacson in the concluding pages of his book quite relevantly.

Ada Lovelace

We humans can remain relevant in an era of cognitive computing because we are able to think different, something that an algorithm, almost by definition cannot master […] –Walter Isaacson

This is well said and there is no point of argument that instead of considering artificial intelligence the “holy grail” and concentrating all our efforts to make a machine better than us which is not a feasible aspect because of a reason that a machine and a human can never think on the same grounds. No matter how much more efficient a computer can become in storing numerous amount of data and calculating numbers that a human mind in normal terms cannot proceed, a computer will never be able to think creatively and sense enormous feelings using an imagination a human has. Computers are just “brilliant idiots” as they will do what you tell him to do. Even as a human, we need art as much as we need science. The art provides us the conscience that lead up to the creativity and science provides the intelligence that can add up to that creativity. These two different looking cultures do intersect and it is our job in this era to understand how they intersect since only then the next phase of Digital Revolution will bring more and new methods of merging technology and creativeness. Using the machines’  intelligence supported by human’s cognition and creativity is the only way to materialise our future.

This innovation will come from people who are able to link beauty and engineering, humanity to technology, and poetry to processors. […] it will come from people who can flourish where the arts intersect with the sciences and who have a rebellious sense of wonder that opens to the beauty of both. –Walter Isaacson on the intersection of art and technology.

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2 thoughts on “THE INNOVATORS by Walter Isaacson”

  1. I definitely have to check this out soon. Critical topic/perspective. Isaacson is always good. Aman, I’m definitely going to keep up with you. Your voracious appetite for books will definitely come in handy when I need an objective perspective on my writings.

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