It was today. I’ve just come back to office, after the dinner party hosted as part of the I&C anniversary celebrations at EPFL. Andrew Viterbi was the guest of honour and largely because of his fame, there was considerable crowd attending the function. Martin Vetterli made a nice colourful, flashy presentation illustrating the history of I&C in EPFL as well as scientific progress in Switzerland. He mentioned the names including Jim Massey, Ungerboek who are undoubtedly pioneers of modern communication theory and practice. He began saying that “…Ungerboek is our friend, and now not quite..I will come to that in a minute…”. And of course he didnt come back and fill the circumstance in which the friendship derailed. But I reckon it was a casual remark, perhaps to indicate that Ungerboek, now with Broadcom is a bitter rival to Qualcomm. Since Qualcomm recently established a scientific partnership with EPFL and Viterbi being a Qualcom founder and associate, he perhaps just jotted that remark. It was a nice, usual interesting presentation by Martin.
He also mentioned a nice story about the current EPFL president Patrick Aebischer. Interestingly Patrick Aebischer after an MD (Medical science) degree was fond of computer science and decided to venture into taking a MS degree in CS . He then decided to test his luck at EPFL and approached the admission committee with a formal application. CS was affiliated to the Math department in those days. EPFL politely rejected his application and in due course that ended Patrick’s quest for an EPFL CS degree. He then moved to the US, as a successful surgeon and took a career path of entirely different trace. Years later, as one would say, due to the uncertain turn of things in the great cycle of life, he became the EPFL president and now ruling not only the CS department, but the whole school.
Viterbi talked about the Digital Communication history. He started giving a perspective of this field starting from the days of Maxwell, Rao, Cramer, Wiener and Nyquist. Then he discussed the impact of Shannon’s work. He said the three driving force which made this digital mobile revolution are
1) Shannon’s framework (1948)
2) Satellite (Sparked by the Sputnik success in 1957)
3) Moores’s law, which is more of a socio economic law, which dramatically kept driving the industry so successfully.
The talk as such wasn’t too attention gathering, but he made a rather comprehensive presentation discussing the impact of digital communication evolution spurred since Shannon’s days (and even early) knitting a dramatic success story of digital wireless world with millions of cell phones and similar devices, which showcased literally the realization of theoretical promise Shannon made in 1948. He himself has his name etched in part of that success story, at least in the form of Viterbi algorithm, which is (one of the instance of it) an algorithm used to detect sequences when perturbed by a medium.
Quite a lot of fun activities were organized by the committee. It was quite fun. Since many programs (especially the fun part) were in french, the appeal was considerably deaf to non-french speakers. But then the rationale given was that, the alumni in good percentage are french! I found it funfilled , mainly to see these successful people like Viterbi sharing their views in real. After all we can learn from history. Not many people can claim to have done so well in everything he touched. In the case of Viterbi, he is an academician, researcher, successful entrepreneur and now a venture capitalist, all scaled to the possible limits. Incredible role model, whichever way we look.