100 YEARS AGO
Science is cosmopolitan. Electricity abolishes time and envelops both hemispheres with a new idea as soon as it has emerged from the brain of the Thinker. Mechanics, by its space-annihilating power, has reduced the surface of the planet to such an extent that the human race now possesses the advantage of dwelling, as it were, on a tiny satellite. Both these agencies, then, combine to facilitate a rapid exchange of new ideas and commodities, as well as of those who are interested in them in whatever capacity. These considerations indicate some of the most momentous changes which have occurred in the world's history since the last century dawned . . . The enormous and unprecedented progress in science during the last century has brought about a perfectly new state of things, in which the “struggle for existence” which Darwin studied in relation to organic forms is now seen, for the first time, to apply to organised communities, not when at war with each other, but when engaged in peaceful commercial strife. It is a struggle in which the fittest to survive is no longer indicated by his valour and muscle and powers of endurance, but by those qualities in which the most successful differs most from the rest.
From Nature 3 January 1901.
50 YEARS AGO
During the past hundred years or so a variety of techniques has been devised for transmitting messages electrically from one point to another. It is only of recent years, however . . . that means have been provided for assessing quantitatively the commodity which is transmitted, namely, the 'information' content of messages, and of determining the extent to which existing techniques fall short of what may be attainable. This recent work proves to have a significance beyond the sphere of electrical communications. A new branch of science is emerging which reveals and clarifies connexions between previously largely unrelated fields of research concerned with different aspects of the processes by which living organisms — in particular man — collect, classify, convert and transmit information. A confluence of different fields of investigation is, of course, no new phenomenon in the history of science, but the wide recognition of a new connecting link can seldom have been so rapid as in the present case.
From Nature 6 January 1951.