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A Superb Overview of Information -- Every Bit of it -- from Memorable Anecdotes to Mathematical Roots
on September 6, 2011
Beautifully written and very relevant overview of "information" from the early days of telegrams all the way to quantum computing, including works from Morse, Russel, Turing, Shannon, Van Neumann, Kolmogorov, Bennett and... Gilles Brassard (U of Montreal).
The central topic remains Claude Shannon's Information Theory and fundamental questions such as "what is information" and "how to measure information". But this books features a very appealing balance between history, short biographies, anecdotes and hard theory. Challenging topics such as Gödel's Theorem, Russel's Paradox, Cryptography, Complexity, etc. are very well articulated, with enough depth and substance and no overly boring technical details or mathematical proofs.
Of particular interest is the chapter on the birth of Cognitive Sciences: The clash between early humanists for whom a strong intuition was good enough to build knowledge upon versus more prosaic scientists who'd insist on testing hypotheses before declaring them good for consumption. There are interesting excerpts from Shannon politely suggesting "more research and less exposition" and Shrödinger advocating for "more rigor over speculation".
Cognitive Sciences are at this crossroads today between fraud and science. Luckily, Gleick reminds us of the time when Biology too used to be a loosely experimental science, and how it became an exact science during the course of the XXth Century.
Not a small book (544 pages) but definitely a Must-Read.