Poetry or doggerel? Oh, who cares. John Horgan has unearthed and now presents some verse written by Claude Shannon in 1981, at the height of the Rubik’s Cube craze. Shannon was, of course, the creator of what is now called information theory; he is the central figure in my new book, where I mention that he liked game-playing and never lost his childlike sense of fun.
Case in point: “A Rubric on Rubik Cubics.” Shannon includes footnotes, in the spirit, he says, of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” He advises, “this may be either read as a poem or sung to ‘Ta! Ra! Ra! Boom De Yay!’ with an eight-bar chorus.” One of the verses turns (and this, too, is entirely characteristic) to the subject of human vs. machine intelligence:
The issue’s joined in steely grip:
Man’s mind against computer chip.
With theorems wrought by Conway’s eight
‘Gainst programs writ by Thistlethwait.
Can multibillion-neuron brains
Beat multimegabit machines?
The thrust of this theistic schism—
To ferret out God’s algorism!
For the whole poem, with footnotes, back story, and entertaining commentary, see Horgan’s Scientific American blog. (Horgan, coincidentally, reviewed The Information for the Wall Street Journal.)
Shannon’s poem is wonderful, fun and fascinating especially since he mentions David Singmaster who invited me to speak about Ada Lovelace at Southbank University who you beautifully describe in your 4th chapter of “The Information.”
It is David Singmaster who is responsible for Ada’s blue plaque on her home at St James’s Square honouring her as “pioneer of the computer”.