You are cordially invited to attend the Winter 2024 Colloquium series of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, organized by Professor Chen-Pang Yeang. The IHPST Colloquium Series comprises a set of talks given by researchers on their recent or cumulative work related to the history and philosophy of science. It is one of the IHPST's major scholarly activities.
The second talk we will host this semester (February 28) is entitled "Transforming Noise: A History of Its Science and Technology from Disturbing Sounds to Informational Errors, 1900-1955" by Professor Chen-Pang Yeang from the IHPST-University of Toronto
This talk examines the historical origin of the attempts to understand, control, and use noise at modern times. Today, the concept of noise is employed to characterize random fluctuations in general. Before the twentieth century, however, noise only meant disturbing sounds. In the 1900s-50s, noise underwent a conceptual transformation from unwanted sounds that needed to be domesticated into a synonym for errors and deviations on all kinds of signals and information. It is argued that this transformation proceeded in four stages. The rise of sound reproduction technologies—phonograph, telephone, and radio—in the 1900s-20s prompted engineers to tackle unwanted sounds as physical effects of media through quantitative representations and measurements. Around the same time, physicists developed a theory of Brownian motions for random fluctuations and applied it to electronic noise in thermionic tubes of telecommunication systems. These technological and scientific backgrounds led to three distinct theoretical treatments of noise in the 1920s-30s: statistical physicists’ studies of Brownian fluctuations’ temporal evolution, radio engineers’ spectral analysis of atmospheric disturbances, and mathematicians’ measure-theoretic formulation. Finally, during and after World War II, researchers working on the military projects of radar, gunfire control, and secret communications converted the interwar theoretical studies of noise into tools for statistical detection, estimation, prediction, and information transmission. In so doing, they turned noise into an informational concept. Since the grappling of noise involved multiple disciplines, its history sheds light on the interactions between physics, mathematics, mechanical technology, electrical engineering, and information and data sciences in the twentieth century.
Please note that this is a hybrid event. You are welcome to attend in person at GSC206 Regents Room, Goldring Centre (150 Charles St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1K9) or join via Zoom. To get the link please e-mail IHPST.email@example.com
Save the date for our next session: March 20
Wednesday, February 28, 2024, 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm - Goldring Centre (150 Charles St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1K9)- GSC206 Regents Room