Review of "The Innovators" by Walter Isaacson

This is a remarkable work. The author is a talented writer so the book is a captivating read but it also presents a fairly accurate account of the technology and the social interactions among the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs that produced the "digital age." There are a lot of positive reviews on line, so I will try to answer some of the critics. The book is not a history of computing and it was not meant to be. It will be very hard to write such a history for a general audience. I can mention several omissions, such as Unix, the SUN computers, C++, Microsoft's Visual Studio, flash drives, etc, etc. At first I was taken aback, but then I thought that it would be hard to explain the importance of some of these advances to a general audience.

In my view there is only one unjustifiable absence from the list of innovators: Ken Thompson and his chess playing computer Belle. Ken had the insight that programming a computer to play chess should not try to imitate the way humans play, but instead take advantage of the characteristics of the machine. Belle became soon the world champion in computer chess and both Deep Blue and Watson are based on the same principles as Belle. Still I would not downgrade my rating for just one flaw.

The last chapter of the book, "Ada Forever," presents the best critique of Artificial Intelligence I have ever read and that by itself is worth the price of the book.