The man who asked the simplest question

“Claude Shannon answered a question that no one else was even asking.”

This is a nice little video essay on Claude Shannon; even as someone bathed in information theory day in, day out, I found it interesting. Sadly, it ends with a standard #einsteincomplex.

If you haven’t read it yet, James Gleick’s The Information is well worth reading… or at least the first three quarters is. As important as Shannon was, it’s worth remembering what Hamming had to say about him:

When you are famous it is hard to work on small problems. This is what did Shannon in. After information theory, what do you do for an encore? The great scientists often make this error. They fail to continue to plant the little acorns from which the mighty oak trees grow. They try to get the big thing right off. And that isn’t the way things go…

When you go to a new field, you have to start over as a baby. You are no longer the big mukity muk and you can start back there and you can start planting those acorns which will become the giant oaks. Shannon, I believe, ruined himself. In fact when he left Bell Labs, I said, “That’s the end of Shannon’s scientific career.” I received a lot of flak from my friends who said that Shannon was just as smart as ever. I said, “Yes, he’ll be just as smart, but that’s the end of his scientific career,” and I truly believe it was.

via kottke

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