Sunday, June 03, 2012

Technology History Bleg

Can someone help me to clarify for me the relationship between the work of Claude Shannon and Alan Turing?  Seen from 37,000 feet, there seems to be an awul lot of overlap--simultaneous discovery? Closer in and I can surmise that there are important differences, but I am a little hazy on just how and what.   James Gleick does discuss sthem together in The Information, but (maybe just me) I didn't find it particularly helpful.   Bonus extra points for insights into the role of Norbert Wiener, plus a private viewing of my very own Wiener story (pretty tame actually, but perhaps amusing).


Anonymous said...

Most of Turing's best known results were about computation, while Shannon's best known results were about communication.

There is an overlap between these areas, not least because today most of our communications is mediated via computers. But one way to look at it is this:

If general purpose computers had never been invented, Turing's work would have been intellectually interesting but not really practical. Shannon's work could still have been influential in shaping the world.

If the telegraph/telephone and radio had not been invented but general purpose computers had, then the situation would be reversed.

On a practical level:

Turing's most important theoretical contributions involved things like proving that different models of computation were actually equivalent (Church-Turing Thesis). This is the foundation of things like compilers which allow you to take one abstract representation of a computation and translate it automatically into another. Very handy when one is easier for humans to understand.

Shannon's work is much more useful when trying to think about adding redundancy to compensate for errors (error-correction) or reducing redundancy to allow for a more compact representation (compression). His notion of the bit is crucial and it is why we talk about storage and transmission of data in terms of bits and bytes (convenient units of 8 bits each).

Hope this helps.

Buce said...

It does help. Thanks very much for your time and trouble, and instructive insights.