JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: He's written books about individuals who changed the game, from Benjamin Franklin to Albert Einstein to Steve Jobs.
But in his latest work, "The Innovators," Walter Isaacson pulls together a story about the group of creative minds who brought us into the digital age, from an English countess to a California hippie. Isaacson weaves the tale of the inventive thinkers who programmed computers and gave us the Internet.
I spoke to Walter Isaacson a few days ago.
Walter Isaacson, thank you for talking with us.
WALTER ISAACSON, Author, "The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution": It's great to be back with you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, congratulations on the book.
You have mainly written about one person at a time. And you have mainly focused on history, politics. Why science and technology and why everybody who was involved?
WALTER ISAACSON: You know, those of us who are biographers know that we distort history sometimes, and we make it sound like it's a gal or a guy in a garage or a garret with a singular lightbulb moment, and one person changes things.
As you know, most innovation comes from people working together, collaborating in teams. So I wanted to show how groups of people brought together to form teams that created the digital revolution. I also think it's fun to understand where our technology comes from.
I mean, you and I love understanding American Revolution, but let's also understand the digital revolution, because that makes us more comfortable with our technology.
JUDY WOODRUFF: It's a little bit surprising. You start with a woman, Ada, countess of Lovelace.
WALTER ISAACSON: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Early 19th century. She is the daughter of Lord Byron, the poet.
WALTER ISAACSON: You know, Ada Lovelace to me is a framing theme for this book because she's the one who connects our humanities to our sciences.
She was a poet because her father was Lord Byron, but she was tutored mainly in mathematics. And so she loved connecting things like poetry to math and science. And she understands how punch cards can turn a calculating machine into a general purpose computer that can make music, can make notes, can make fabrics, can make designs.
And that's the idea of the human imagination combined with technologies that really drives the digital age.
JUDY WOODRUFF: You jump ahead at that point in many ways to the next century, to the 20th century, early 20th century, and there are so many figures.
How, Walter Isaacson, did you decide who to focus on? Because there were a lot of people.
WALTER ISAACSON: Oh, yes, and a lot of people had to be left out.
But I took the 12 or so major inventions of the digital age, including the big computer, the transition to the microchip, the personal computer, the Internet, and those types of things, and said, who made the original leaps to get us there?
And I know that leaves some great people out, but what it does is, it takes the word innovation, which we overuse so much, it's become kind of drained of its meaning, and say, well, let's look at very specific teams of innovators and say, how did they think out of the box, how did they think different in order to make this particular leap that got us to the personal computer or the microchip?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some fascinating stories here.
And, of course, you do get to some of the names later in the book we're familiar with, a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs, who, of course, you written another book about.
But you also write about people most of us have not heard of, Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, whose photo is…
WALTER ISAACSON: Yes. A lot of people hear about Alan Turing soon because there's a wonderful movie coming out called "The Imitation Game."
He's the one who at Bletchley Park, England, during World War II helped create computers that broke the German wartime codes. He also comes up with this notion that machines maybe can think without us. He calls it the imitation game. We also sometimes call it the Turing test.
And that was a test for artificial intelligence. But the theme of the book I try to portray is that people we don't know as much about, they create ways to connect us more personally to our machines. And that's actually been more successful than this notion of artificial intelligence.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What set these people apart, Walter?
WALTER ISAACSON: I think they're rebellious. They think a little bit differently.
They also have a sense of beauty. I mean, Steve Jobs knew how to — that beauty mattered. But you see that with people JCR Licklider, somebody nobody — I had hardly ever heard of. Licklider is building an air defense system at MIT in the '60s and '70s. And he creates graphical displays so that console jockeys could understand what IS happening on the screen.
And he creates networks so people can share information. And you see the seeds of the computer, the graphical computer and the Internet coming together with people we don't know enough about, like JCR Licklider.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And you also have, again, great anecdotes about people who were involved, who were almost there, who almost made it, but for one reason or another took a wrong turn, made a wrong decision.
WALTER ISAACSON: Mainly, the reason people who didn't succeed had trouble because they had trouble forming teams. They didn't know how to collaborate.
For example, there's John Vincent Atanasoff, who creates a wonderful circuit board in the basement of the Iowa State physics lab, and he sort of has the rudiments of a computer, but he doesn't know how to get the punch card burners working and the mechanics working.
A guy named John Mauchly from the University of Pennsylvania comes by, sees it, but also picks up ideas in a dozen other places. He gets engineers together, like Presper Eckert, mechanics, six great women mathematicians to program it, and they form a collaborative team.
So they really created the first general purpose programmable computer, ENIAC at the University of Pennsylvania.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you want people to take away from this? You want them to be more excited, I know, about — we're all swimming in this digital revolution that we live in.
WALTER ISAACSON: You know, we're swimming in this digital revolution, but we don't how we got here. We don't know who invented the computer. We don't know who invented the Internet.
You know, those — if you want to be a great American, you have got to understand Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, how the American Revolution happened. I think if you want to be a good citizen of the digital age, it helps to feel comfortable with both the people and the ways of thinking that created the digital revolution.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, if you look at where we are in this digital revolution, are we near the end of it, based on your research? Are we just at the beginning?
WALTER ISAACSON: I think we're totally at the beginning.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Is something completely different right around the corner?
WALTER ISAACSON: Oh, I think there's always things right around the corner.
I think America is really well-positioned, because we do train people to be creative and sometimes resist authority, which helps in being an innovator. I think you're going to see for the next phase of the revolution all sorts of wonderful ways of connecting art and literature and journalism into new forms of digital expression, because the whole theme of my book is how the digital age keeps making things that are personal and that help connect us as humans.
So I think we're about to see that next wave occur.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I have a couple of more questions I want to ask you for online.
But, for right now, Walter Isaacson, the book is "The Innovators."
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We thank you.
WALTER ISAACSON: Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And there is more of our conversation online, including Isaacson's take on how balancing security and privacy is a key issue in the digital age. That's on the Rundown.
n. 取景；[计]组帧；设计；框架 v. 制定；构造；装