By Anna Hodge
I am part of a generation that is always gazing into the horizon for the next great gadget, the next engaging smart phone app, the next addictive tech tool that will most likely distract me during my college lectures.
I know that most millennials are just like me, standing tall on their toes, trying to see above the heads in front of them to determine what the next innovation will be and when they can purchase it. In such a fast-paced environment, it’s easy to forget about all the innovative groundwork that was laid over the years to get us to this point. That’s why it’s important to stop every once in a while and take the time to recognize the contributions of the innovators.
Three IBM engineers were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame on Wednesday for their invention of the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator (ASCC), which was developed more than 70 years ago. ASCC performed high-speed, complex mathematical calculations.
The invention signaled the start of the first electronic programmable computers. These devices enabled advances like putting Neil Armstrong on the moon. The programmable era succeeded the tabulating era, when punch card tabulators monitored business performance and other mechanical devices were created. And finally, programmable computers have set us on a journey to IBM Watson, today’s cognitive computing system that has the potential to transform industries and professions in ways we cannot even imagine.
So here I am, a millennial, who likes looking forward, suddenly fascinated with learning about these innovators who helped create the foundation for the mechanisms that now drive my life – the Internet, the laptop I type on, the Cloud where I store my photos and the social media that I cannot resist scrolling through every hour. All this innovation that shapes my life and so many other lives were set in motion by these pioneers’ inventions. They in fact created a legacy that is the basis for our own technology-driven lives.
The three engineers now join 18 other IBMers who were welcomed to the National Inventors Hall of Fame for a diverse range of inventions. This milestone should encourage us to look back at where we have emerged from, and remember that, while technology can be boiled down to the devices at our fingertips, technology is, in the end, ideas that emerge from the minds of people. While Watson is signaling the future of technology, it is also profound for its ability to bring people and technology together to do great things.
Just as programmable computing has transformed society over the past 60 years, cognitive computing, created by people like these scientists in the Hall of Fame, will no doubt alter the way we learn, work and live in the future.
If the induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame proves anything, it showcases the fact that innovation is one of the greatest capabilities of humankind. So the next time you post on Facebook or Tweet out to your followers, remember that all of it started with a great idea in the mind of someone just like you and me.
While my generation always likes to look ahead, looking back can be a breakthrough.