The Information

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Posted by: stak
Tags: book2019
Posted on: 2019-08-21 04:39:50

Book #21 of 2019 is The Information by James Gleick. It's a comprehensive but easy-to-read book on information. It starts with the transition from oral to written history, and goes all the way to quantum information theory concepts, spending the most amount of time on Claude Shannon's work on developing information theory. I found it quite good, although it took me a while to get through as I had to stop periodically and absorb stuff. There was a bunch of stuff in there that made for interesting thought-fodder. Wouldn't recommend it to a general public though; good for somebody with a general interest in information theory.

As a tangent, here's a (variant of a) puzzle I was forwarded not too long ago on WhatsApp. Usually I dislike those things, but this puzzle intrigued me as it seemed impossible to solve at first and took me a few days to figure out.

You, your friend, and the Devil play a game. You and the Devil are in the room with a 8x8 chess board with 64 tokens on it, one on each square. Meanwhile, your friend is outside of the room. The token can either be on an up position or a down position, and the difference in position is distinguishable to the eye. The Devil randomizes the tokens on the board (so it's a random mix of up and down) and chooses one of the 64 squares and calls it the magic square. Next, you may choose one token on a square and flip its position. Then, you leave the room, and your friend comes in and must guess what the magic square was by looking at the state of the board. You and your friend may agree on some strategy beforehand, but there are no "side channels" for leaking information other than the tokens on the chessboard.

Bonus points if you can explain the solution without using concepts from information theory (I couldn't).

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