Shannon/Weaver & Fiber Optics

Subject: Shannon/Weaver & Fiber Optics
From: "USA::MU17692" <MU17692%USA -dot- decnet -at- USAV01 -dot- GLAXO -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 30 Nov 1994 11:29:00 EST

As I recall from my graduate studies, Warren Weaver, with help
from Claude Shannon, (or was it the other way around?) developed
modern "Information Theory." Their model is for *communications*,
not *communication*. The difference is that *communications* deals
with bits of data being transmitted through a medium. Questions of
interference, bandwidth, encoding, etc. are immediately relevant.
The role of human expectations, emotions, etc. is barely addressed.

When S&W do address humans, it is only insofar as adopting clear,
agreed-upon code words helps people communicate more clearly.
For example, "alpha baker charlie..." for "A, B, C..." They and
colleagues in the 1940s worked with the military to improve
*communications*. They didn't teach technical writers or presenters
how to do *their* jobs better.

The Shannon-Weaver model only marginally addresses the practical
way in which we do our jobs. While information theory is
fascinating, it is not directly relevant to technical communication.

What technical communicators should be talking about is the
increasing rate at which information is being transmitted. For example,
how WANs connected with fiber optic lines will transform--again--the
way we do our work and live our lives.

Have any of you seen or heard of a book by a guy named George Gilder
from MIT? I recently read a chapter from a book by him. I cannot
remember the title exactly, but the topic I read about was "dark fiber"
and the chapter title was "The Coming Fibershere." (If Sue McCullough
reads this, perhaps she will correct me and provide the missing

Anyway, Gilder's discussion of the application of fiber optic connections
is fascinating. For example, let me throw out a juicy tidbit: Gilder
argues that just as engineers once had to learn to "waste" transisters,
which now cost about 300 millionths of a cent ($0.00000003), they soon
shall have to learn to "waste" bandwidth. Fiber will provide so much
bandwidth, that engineers and programmers will have to rethink the way
the use communication link resources.

Also consider the fact that fiber automatically makes the PC's *electronics*
the bottleneck in the new environment. For anyone who uses a modem on a
486, Pentium, or other 32-bit computer, the idea that the computer will
lag far behind the comm link is radical.

Food for thought...

-Mike Uhl (uhl~m -at- glaxo -dot- com)
Glaxo Inc. Research Institute
Research Triangle Park, NC

"Francis Bacon told us that ' power.' This can now
be translated into contemporary terms. In our social setting,
'Knowledge is change'--and accelerating knowledge-acquisition, fueling
the great engine of technology, means accelerating change."
-Alvin Toffler, _Future Shock_ (1970)

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