Defining Limits and the Future of Communication

Joerg Kliewer, associate professor in the Helen and John C. Hartmann Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, explores boundaries, limits that are increasingly important in everyday life. It’s work funded by three grants from the National Science Foundation totaling over $500,000, grants for which Kliewer is the principal investigator.

In a world awash in digital data, it’s essential to know how much information various media, such as wireless and wireline communication networks, can reliably transport. Kliewer, who joined NJIT in January 2014 from New Mexico State University, is applying information theory to assessing the limits and potential of transmission systems underlying the multimedia technology that has transformed life in the 21st century. He also is helping to develop data management strategies, including data coding and decoding techniques, needed to sustain the momentum of this transformation.

As Kliewer explains, he is building on the work of Claude Shannon, the Bell Telephone Laboratories mathematician who pioneered information theory and its value in real-world communication in the 1940s. Shannon introduced the concept of the communication “channel” in his research, which provided an innovative path to quantifying the capacity of communication networks and compensating for transmission errors. It took 50 years of research to develop practical ways to achieve Shannon’s prediction for the transmission bounds of a single point-to-point communication channel, and the challenge now lies in applying Shannon’s ideas to communication networks.

Maximizing reliability and security in what Kliewer terms “low-complexity” networks is a particular focus of his current research. He cites examples that include coordinating the operation of groups of relatively simple robots deployed to monitor the nation’s borders and the routing of automobile traffic around an accident by means of wireless communication. Comparable data management also is needed for the transmission of medical data from sensors directly connected to our bodies.

Kliewer says that the theoretical limits of vital communications technology available today are still not clear, and we have yet to determine what might be feasible in the future. The funding that the National Science Foundation has invested in research to find the answers underscores the economic and social significance of the effort.

Kliewer also continues to participate in research at New Mexico State that takes information theory into the realm of neurophysiology, to model human perception of digital data. More specifically, the goal is to study what volunteers’ electroencephalograph (EEG) data indicates about how they perceive music transmitted at various levels of audio quality. A key goal is to use Shannon’s concepts to quantify and understand the characteristics of the brain, which acts as a communication channel between heard music with “good” or “distorted” quality and the measured EEG data.

Making phone calls, texting, sharing a video, surfing the Internet, enjoying music. These activities and many more, like medical monitoring, depend on the efficiency and reliability of digital transmission systems. There’s no doubt that the demands on such systems will grow exponentially. At NJIT, Joerg Kliewer is engaged in leading-edge investigation of what is digitally possible today, and what could be possible going forward.