PORTRAITS IN SILICON by Robert Slater

PORTRAITS IN SILICON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Brief but informative profiles of 33 men and one woman who have contributed significantly to the development of either solid-state electronics or computer technology. Time correspondent Slater (Golda, 1981) opens with a rundown on an engaging 19th-century character: Englishman Charles Babbage, whose design for a so-called Analytic Engine anticipated punched-card control of central processing units. On the author's list of contemporary masterminds are the likes of mathematician Alan Turing, game theorist John von Neumann, and Claude Shannon of Boolean logic fame. Slater's choice of hardware pioneers ranges from Harvard's Howard Aiken through Seymour Cray (a recluse best known for his supercomputers) and Gordon Bell (who helped make minis a commercial reality for Digital Equipment Corp.). Slater also devotes a good deal of attention to software, reviewing the achievements of such superstars as Grace Murray Hopper (COBOL, for common business oriented language), John Backus (FORTRAN, formula translation), and Daniel Bricklin (VisiCalc). Covered as well are seminal semiconductor figures like Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce (architects of the integrated circuit), plus a wealth of entre. preneurs--Thomas Watson Sr. (IBM), Nolan Bushnell (Atari), Steven Jobs (Apple Computer), William Gates (Microsoft), et al. Some observers may take exception to Slater's omission of Marvin Minsky (the dean of artificial intelligence), Norbert Wiener (co-author with von Neumann of Cybernetics), An Wang, or other equally deserving candidates. Conversely, others may object to the inclusion of William Shockley, a Nobel laureate and co-inventor of the transistor, whose outrÉ theories on dysgenic breeding belie his genius for scientific research. On balance, however, the author offers a representative who's who that's notable more for accessible breadth than any great depth. A fine introduction for electronics/computer tyros and a ready reference for older hands. The text has head-and-shoulders portrait-photos of all principals, plus some less than arresting installation shots.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
ISBN: 0262691310
Publisher: MIT Press