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Communications of the ACM

Historical reflections

Innovators Assemble: Ada Lovelace, Walter Isaacson, and the Superheroines of Computing

Ada Lovelace, portrait

Ada Lovelace

Credit: Alfred Edward Chalon (1840)

Consider two recent blockbuster sequels. Avengers: Age of Ultron, a superhero movie, enjoyed the second strongest opening weekend of all time, behind only its predecessor, Avengers Assemble. The fastest-selling history of computing book ever published is Walter Isaacson's The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. Its sales fall short only in comparison to his previous book, Steve Jobs, which reportedly broke all records for a biography.

Avenging and innovating turn out to have a surprising amount in common. Both require one to assemble a team of superheroes who must work together to defy daunting odds and change the course of human history. Both deploy a cast of characters who have been written about for decades but are now reaching massive audiences. Both feel somewhat overstuffed, as their hugely experienced creators struggle to maintain a light touch while maneuvering a complicated narrative through a vast number of required plot points. Both highlight origin stories, as if understanding the moments at which individuals received their special powers or the circumstances in which particular technologies were first coaxed into operation will always explain their subsequent trajectories.

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