Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Review: The Innovators

The Innovators is Walter Isaacson's history of the IT industry. It has two theses it argues for: one is that innovation and breakthroughs don't occur in a vacuum: it takes a team to make revolutionary change in industries, and the team could take the form of a company (startup or traditional research lab) or open-source style collaboration, or a partnership.

The time spent on each individual or team is pretty shallow, since Isaacson's covering huge periods of time (from Charles Babbage through the invention of the transistor to the introduction of the world wide web). As someone who worked in publishing, he had his biases, for instance, choosing to focus on blogger but not say, friendster or Facebook.

The book makes the point that the growth of the social networks and interlinked web is the culmination of the vision laid forth by Vannevar Bush's Memex. I wonder how Bush (or for that matter, Isaacson) would have thought of the current revelations that foreign governments did take advantage of the distributed nature of the web to attack American democracy (not that the stage weren't set by various political movements that came before).

The second thesis of the book is that augmented intelligence has won over artificial intelligence. I actually think that it's too early to say that, especially in the light of recent advances in statistical machine learning.

All in all, the book's not up to the standard set by his biographies of Einstein or Jobs, but it still made for decent reading. Mildly recommended.

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