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Sergio Verdú, a giant in the field of information theory, tomorrow will be delivering the Shannon Lecture at the IEEE International Symposium on Information Theory being held this week in Nice, France.

What exactly is information theory? Not to be confused with “information technology,” information theory is the discipline in applied mathematics that drives technologies like MP3s and ZIP files and which lies at the intersection of a diverse range of fields, from physics and neurobiology to electrical engineering and statistics.

“Its impact has been crucial to success of the Voyager missions to deep space, the invention of the CD, the feasibility of mobile phones, the development of the Internet, the study of linguistics and of human perception, the understanding of black holes, and numerous other fields,” according to the Wikipedia entry on the field.

The Shannon Lecture is delivered by the recipient of the Shannon Award, the most prestigious prize in information theory. The award is named in honor of Claude Shannon, who launched the field in 1948 when he published his classic paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in Bell Labs’ technical journal.

Verdú’s talk tomorrow is playfully titled “teaching it” — “it” being information theory. Verdú is part of Princeton Engineering’s peerless powerhouse in information theory, a group of formidable theorists who are as renowned for their teaching as for their scholarship. This group includes H. Vincent Poor, Princeton’s dean of engineering, who is giving today’s plenary talk at the conference in Nice. A world-class authority on wireless, Poor will be talking about two different models of wireless networks: competitive and collaborative. At Princeton, Poor’s collaborators include Stuart Schwartz, Mung Chiang, and Sanjeev Kulkarni, who by the way has written a book with philosopher Gilbert Harman that has just been published by MIT Press.

Many will be listening closely to what Poor has to say today. The Economist magazine recently devoted a 14-page report on the impending wireless revolution, concluding that “wireless technology is akin to the electrical grid, which was originally intended for a particular use, the light bulb, but whose ‘killer application’ turned out to be the power socket that allowed a multitude of new and unforeseen devices to draw energy from it. In time, the new wireless technologies will likewise reshape society in unpredictable ways.”

 
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