Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Don't expect an answer from founder of information science

"By the early 1950s, [Claude] Shannon's admirers from around the  world began to seek  him out. They wrote to the oracle at Bell Labs to ask about computers or chess or information theory . . . . Requests also came in through official channels . . . .

Still, most of the letters to Shannon came from academics or chess enthusiastic or weekend tinkerers, schoolchildren or  hobbyists wanting to know more about Theseus [an automated maze-navigating mouse]. On occasion Shannon would answer the letters; more often than not, he would let them languish in piles and folders in his office. . . . the letters would eventually get herded into a folder he  had labeled "Letters I've procrastinated in answering too long." . . . It seemed lost on Shannon that the scientist who had declared that any message could be sent through any noisy channel with almost perfect fidelity was now himself a proven exception. Transmissions could reach Claude Shannon, but then they would fail to go any farther.
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (New York: Penguin, 2012), pp. 140-41

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