I tripped across an intriguing headline in the new issue of Fortune, “The Father of the Information Age (Finally) Gets His Own Book.” This intrigued me because the name Claude Shannon, the subject of a new book that Robert Hackett delightfully if briefly reviews in the magazine, was a complete unknown to me.
I’d never heard of Shannon, despite his having conceived of the bit (a unit of information) and having been a titan of mathematics and cryptography for Bell Labs during World War II. In a nice turn of phrase, Hackett refers to Shannon as a “thinker-tinkerer,” and according to his review, and a far longer one in The Wall Street Journal, Shannon thought great thoughts, built great things, and, amazingly was a normal, humble guy.
Shannon was a Midwesterner whose interests ranged from juggling to robots to investing. His research laid the groundwork for the computer revolution that followed his pioneering work during the war. He lived a long life, dying in 2001 of Alzheimer’s. As George Dyson elegantly wrote in The Journal: “The mind that gave us the collective memory we now so depend on had its own memory taken away.”
For all of our daily focus on moguls who may or may not be relevant decades from now, it’s somehow comforting to read about the towering achievements of a not-quite-forgotten giant who made it all possible.
When I saw the headline “Sony Restructures Television Unit” my first reaction was: Sony (SNE) still makes televisions? (It does.) As it happens, the article isn’t about a manufacturing arm of the Japanese giant we used to talk about all the time, but rather its still-powerful creator of TV shows. This has become a tech story because Apple (AAPL) recently raided Sony for its nascent entertainment unit. For years, tech wags speculated that Apple—which the President of the United States said Tuesday would open three big, “beautiful” manufacturing plants in the U.S.— would buy Sony. Apple appears to have hit on a better strategy.