For anyone in the information and communications technology (ICT) industries, if you were not aware and you really need to be, we all owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Claude Shannon. For those not familiar, Shannon is appropriately acknowledged as, “The Father of Information Theory.” April 30, 2016 marked the 100th birthday of this truly remarkable man (see IEEE’s excellent bio), whose groundbreaking work on computing, cryptography, and communications literally laid the theoretical foundation for modern communications, computing and cryptology by explaining how the world could be use binary coding to capture and communicate information.
Shannon, worked at Bell Labs from 1941 until 1956. He later became a distinguished professor at MIT (News - Alert) and died in 2001. It is thus fitting that NOKIA Bell Labs, in commemoration of his 100th birth held, “The Future of the information age: Claude Shannon Centennial Conference.” I was honored to have been invited to attend and remain overwhelmed by what I heard and saw.
It was a two-day affair featuring a retrospective and reflection from those Shannon worked with and mentored. This included featured speeches by such luminaries as Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google (News - Alert) and now chairman of Alphabet), Bob Metcalfe (inventor of Ethernet and formulator of “Metcalfe’s Law” on the value of networks, and Dr. Irwin Jacobs (co-founder of Qualcomm), just to name a few. It also included personal stories from colleagues, and the dedication of monument is an outdoor amphitheater, where various multi and multiple media events will take place, along with tours of Bell Labs (News - Alert) projects in the works, and presentations by the three finalists in the Shannon Centennial student prize competition.
In addition, in Shannon’s honor as part of the festivities there was the premiere presentation of The Human Digital OrchestraTM—a collaboration with Bell Labs Experiment in the Art and Technology (EAT) an Stevens Institute of Technology—is an artistic performance that premiered at the celebration and is a re-start of the EAT tradition that dates back to Shannon’s time at Bell Labs.
As noted, it was intimidating to be surrounded by so much brain power, including Noble Prize winners and those with recognition pedigrees that take up pages and represent a who’s who of popular computing and communications science. That said, the dedication on the plaque in the amphitheater may sum it up best.
“The mathematical principles of Information Theory, laid down by Claude Elwood Shannon during the period 1939-1967, set in motion a
revolution in communication systems engineering. They quantified the concept of information, established fundamental limits for the representation and reliable transmission of information, and revealed the architecture of systems for approaching them. Today, Information Theory, continues to provide the foundation for advances in information collection, storage, distribution, and processing.”
In short, “where would we be without you?” was a common refrain.
What was also on display and the subject of lively discussion was what lies ahead. There were intriguing demonstrations in the Labs relating to what users will no doubt will believe are titillating. They included:
- Understanding everything
- Future thought-the creation of augmented intelligence
- Future communication, contextual search, content and control-in one app
- Controlling everything
- Future wireless-enabling robotic automation & collaboration
- Future of cloud control- creating zero-touch clouds
- Future core-operating optical systems at the Shannon limit
- Accessing everything-creating the digital fabric for a smart world
- Future wireless- enabling autonomous vehicles
- Future sense-deep learning in wearables, phone and things
I did have a chance to have brief chats with Marcus Weldon, president of Bell Labs and chief technology officer of Nokia (News - Alert), Metcalfe and Dr. Jacobs. Without going into the details, what fascinated me was the absolute consensus of all of them about how optimistic they are about the future. Indeed, as the list above highlights we are moving to an “E”verything, ubiquitously accessible, agile and controllable world.
How we are going to get there is by leveraging the brain power of the start-ups Metcalfe is mentoring in Austin, TX, the breakthroughs in the applicability of advanced wireless technologies that are enabling IoT that has Dr. Jacobs jazzed to say the least, and what Eric Schmidt discussed about the possibilities of not just imagining but realizing all kinds of things that enhance the human condition because of artificial intelligence/augmented intelligence.
As Bell Labs Weldon said, “We’re going to build a brand new network over the next 10 years.” The reason is simple. It is not just about the fact that we are creating information that needs to be computed, stored, integrated, analyzed and communicated. That is the cause for the tsunami of major proportions we have already experience alone and they are only getting bigger alone. It is that experiences will become more “immersive” as all of that smarts get disseminated and used, and that creates the need not just for more feeds and speeds, but for more scalability, elasticity and quality of service management.
In short, in communications industry terms, the time must be short to change-out what I have called the “Infostructure” to be ready for what we all know is heading our way. It is the reason why, as the world becomes more digital, connected, interactive and smarter, the PSTN is being retired globally and the first generations of IP and wireless networks need to be replaced in lifecycles that make typical ones look glacial. It is also why new business models for paying for this, and new public policies to be future-friendly rather than obstacles must be in place. It is also why security as design criteria along with advanced detection and real-time protection are going to have a major role to play.
The ultimate goal is a transformation where the network is the cloud and vice versa and it is embedded physically and virtually in “E”verything we do. Weldon, whom I spoke with first, asked me to ask Metcalfe and Jacobs if they concurred about the need, outlined in a recent Nokia study, Who will satisfy the desire to consume?, that today’s networks can’t meet the digital future foreseen by 2020. I can relate here and to Marcus they whole-heartedly agreed and amplified why the transformed network really has to be the core of the engine driving and accelerating the pace of innovation.
Who knows, like Shannon and Metcalfe, maybe there is going to be a “law” about the correlation between availability of scalable, agile and high performance and speed networks, and the speed of not just innovation but product and service adoption based on it. We all owe just the ability to contemplate all of this to Claude Shannon which is why, for example, on April 30th Google’s home page had a tribute and why the celebration of his 100th birthday by Bell Labs was so important and such a treat.
Edited by Maurice Nagle