When they say, [one person's name] invented [something of importance], I hear bullshit. Same reaction to father of this or that. History would say the lone inventor does not exist except in fairy tales. Society wants to put one person on a pedestal, but in my experience that's not the way it happens. Worse, if you say it enough then the person starts to believe it ... or has to believe it.
I have been extremely fortunate to have worked with so many talented and creative people. I often say that that the place to be as an engineer in the 50's and 60's was aerospace. In the 70's & 80's it was electrical engineering as the building blocks of the personal computer were built. Since then it's been a wild ride with the social impact of connecting these devices together with software and getting online. It's really crazy when you look back at it. The amazing part is that we are just getting started.
A couple years ago, I gave a presentation about patent trolls where I used a quote from Issac Newton in 1676. Original attribution is believed to be Bernard of Chartes in 1159. Makes you wonder if there is a lone inventor myth of quotes.
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
Long before the modern world of technology that we now know, there were many giants that most would not not even recognize. Vannevar Bush, Licklider, Taylor, Roberts, Davies, Baran, Cerf, Kahn ... and thousands of others all made major contributions before the PC ever existed. They in turn stood on the shoulders of giants and mentors that came before them.
I am certain that the same characteristics that were critical then remain critical now.
- Teamwork and Collaboration
- Fully Distributed
- Man/Machine augmentation is better than pure AI
- Management. Get the right combination of different talents at the top
- Intersection of art and science
- There will be assholes
I have been re-familiarizing myself with the stunning history of what has become the digital revolution through Walter Isaacson's book, The Innovators. I'm up to the chapter on the personal computer which is when I became of age. Thanks to all those that came before for creating a foundation for us to realize the amazing products and services that we now enjoy.
Three passages of the book that resonated with me regarding credit and the internet. First was from Paul Baran.
"The process of technological development is like building a cathedral. Over the course of several hundred years new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying, "I built a cathedral." Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. then comes along an historian who asks, "Well, who built the cathedral?" Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else."
A second came from Dave Clark, one of the participants in the IETF.
"We reject kings, presidents and voting. We believe in rough consensus and running code."
The Request for Comment process was a beautiful thing. RFC 1 was published in 1969! Thirty years later, Vint Cerf wrote:
"Hidden in the history of the RFC's is the history of human institutions for achieving cooperative work."
Fascinating history ... YES. Lone inventors ... NO.