Brain Pickings

Information Pioneers: The Unsung Heroes of the Information Age

What striking down Hitler has to do with laying the groundwork for the iPhone.

Last week, we looked at a BBC retrospective of art history — something deeply ingrained in our cultural appreciation DNA, celebrated everywhere from liberal arts academia to the dinner party table. Today, we are looking at something far less widely acclaimed but no less important: Geek history.

Information Pioneers, a new series by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, spotlights five vastly different people whose legacy shaped the information society we live in today — Ada Lovelace, the ultimate “woman in tech” whose work sprouted the very first algorithm; Alan Turing, who laid the groundwork for computer science; Hedy Lamarr, actress-turned-wireless-communication-inventor; Sir Clive Sinclair, creator of the pocket calculator; and the great Sir Tim Berners-Lee, widely credited as the father of the World Wide Web.*

A short film portrays each of the pioneers, who were culled from a shortlist of 150, nominated by BCS members, and a different “celebrity advocate” — Ortis Deley, Kate Russell, Miranda Raison, Phil Tufnell, Dom Joly — narrates each story.

You can vote for one of the five — so far, Alan Turing has a staggering 40% lead — or rant about the non-inclusion of your favorite pioneer for a chance to win a well-curated pack of books, each inspired by the life and philosophy of one of the five pioneers.

Mostly, Information Pioneers is a refreshing effort to celebrate those whose legacy is infused in just about every aspect of modern life yet remains largely unknown outside the computer science world. Here’s to you, geek gods of yore and unsung heroes of the information age.


CORRECTION: Per Vint Cerf’s comment below, Vint being an actual “father of the Internet,” Tim Berners Lee is commonly considered the “father of the World Wide Web,” not of the Internet.

Published June 21, 2010




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