The Digital Revolution

This week's review covers the digital revolution from human calculators to current innovations to the web

The innovators

Isaacson, Walter. Simon & Schuster, 2014
542p index, 9781476708690 $35.00

the innovators book cover

Isaacson (CEO, Aspen Institute) follows his Jobs biography, Steve Jobs (CH, Apr’12, 49-4500), with an exceptional history of the innovations that drove the digital revolution. Besides revealing the technologies involved, he integrates succinct profiles of important individuals and corporations, emphasizing the management styles deployed that either encouraged innovation or foiled success. The collaboration between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the 1840s launched the digital revolution. Babbage’s Analytical Engine and Lovelace’s accompanying commentary and algorithms were inspirational for later generations. The author discusses the transformation of the 19th-century world of human calculators into today’s digital world of the web, and explains that ubiquitous computers, smart appliances, and virtual social spaces required many significant innovations. Switching circuits, transistors, microchips, microprocessors, the mouse, and memory storage were prerequisite; the conceptual shift away from single-use computers, e.g., the ENIAC for hydrogen bomb calculations, to multipurpose programmable computers was critical. The journey of innovation continued with the birth of time-sharing and ARPANET, which evolved into the Internet; the successful launch of personal computers by Gates and Jobs; e-mail, Usenet groups, and bulletin boards creating community; and operating systems like Linux becoming open and free. Isaacson concludes his engaging history with recent innovations that are building the web.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readership levels.
Reviewer: M. Mounts, Dartmouth College
Subject: Science & Technology – Information & Computer Science
Choice Issue: Mar 2015