Monday, October 26, 2015

Claude Shannon didn't mean to be practical

With information theory, [Claude] Shannon had never had any intention of changing the world—it had just worked out that way. He had pursued the work not because he perceived it would be useful in squeezing ore information into undersea ocean cables or deep space communications. He had pursued it because it intrigued him. In fact, Shannon had never been especially interested in the everyday value of his work. He once told an interview, "I think you impute a little more practical purpose to my thinking than actually exists. My mind wanders around, and I conceive of different things day and night. Like a science-fiction writer, I'm thinking, 'What if it were like this?' or, 'Is there an interesting problem of this type?' . . . It's usually just that I like to solve a problem, and I work on these all the time." 
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin: 2012), p. 319
"I don't think I was ever motivated by the notion of winning prizes, although I have a couple of dozen of them in the other room," Claude Shannon said late in life. "I was motivated more by curiosity. I was never motivated by the desire for money, financial gian. I wasn't trying to do something big so that I could get a bigger salary."
Id., p. 350

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