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Episode 47
Featuring Jimmy Soni
The digitization of information transformed the foundation of our society, thrusting us into an era, and economy, dominated by information technology. This information age was created by one man: Claude Shannon. Here, we dive into Shannon’s work, the most important thesis of the 20th century, a mathematical theory of communication.

The 20th century is known as the information age, and for a good reason. It is a period that is dominated by knowledge and data. It’s an era in which the economy is no longer driven by traditional industries — such as construction, manufacturing, or agriculture — but by advanced information technologies that store, retrieve, transmit, and manipulate data.

 

This revolution finds its roots in Information Theory. And remarkably, it is a theory that was developed by one man: Claude Shannon.
 

Before Shannon, society had a rather immature understanding of what information was. Information was understood as something immaterial and intangible. It was not seen as something that could be touched or manipulated. It was assumed that the only way to send information (intelligence, as it was then refered to) across a greater distance was to “boost” the signal by using more power. This was a notoriously imperfect system, as it increased the amount of “noise” that was received and made the message more difficult to discern.
 

In his foundational work, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, Shannon solved this issue and presented a completely new way of understanding information. He showed that information isn’t insubstantial, but something that we can measure and manipulate — something that has physical characteristics and can be quantified. Shannon also created a diagram which showed that all information has certain, set components — such as a source, a transmitter, a recipient, and so on. As such, not only did he show that information is something that can be made material, through his work, Shannon proved that all information (be it a radio signal, a photo, or a song) can be governed through a set of common laws.

 

In short, he turned information into something that can be computed and reliably transmitted, laying the foundation for the digital revolution.

 

In this episode, Jimmy Soni, author of A Mind at Play: How Claude Shannon Invented the Information Age, joins Demetri Kofinas to discuss how Shannon was able to develop a new way of automating thought, one that would prove to be far more powerful than the analog machine.

 

Producer & Host: Demetri Kofinas

Editor & Engineer: Stylianos Nicolaou

Join the conversation on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter at @hiddenforcespod

Jimmy is a New York based author, editor, and speechwriter. He's the co-author of Rome's Last Citizen, a biography of the ancient Roman Senator Cato, and A Mind at Play, a biography of the late mathematician Claude Shannon. The latter book won the Neumann Prize for the top book in the history of mathematics for 2017 and was named

one of the best books of the year by Nature and Bloomberg. Jimmy has also served as an editor at the Huffington Post, the New York Observer, and the Washington Examiner. He's also the absurdly proud father of a nearly three-year-old daughter.

 

@jimmyasoni

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