Claude E. Shannon

Claude Elwood Shannon (April 30, 1916 - February 24, 2001) has been called "the father of information theory", and was the founder of practical digital circuit design theory.



Shannon was born in Petoskey, Michigan and was a distant relative of Thomas Edison. While growing up, he worked as a messenger for Western Union.

In 1932, Shannon began studying at the University of Michigan, where he eventually encountered a course that introduced him to the works of George Boole. He graduated from the university in 1936 with two bachelor's degrees, one in electrical engineering and one in mathematics, and he then moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for graduate school, where he worked on Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer, an analog computer.

In his 1937 MIT master's thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits, Shannon proved that Boolean algebra and binary arithmetic could be used to simplify the arrangement of the electromechanical relays then used in telephone routing switches, then turned the concept upside down and also proved that it should be possible to use arrangements of relays to solve Boolean algebra problems. This concept, of utilizing the properties of electrical switches to do logic, is the basic concept that underlies all electronic digital computers, and the thesis became the foundation of practical digital circuit design when it became widely known among the electrical engineering community during and after World War II. Contemporaneous methods to design logic circuits at the time were ad hoc and lacked the theoretical rigor that Shannon's paper supplied to later projects.

Professor Howard Gardner, of Harvard University, called Shannon's thesis "possibly the most important, and also the most famous, master's thesis of the century". A version of the paper was published in the 1938 issue of the Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and in 1940, it earned Shannon the Alfred Noble American Institute of American Engineers Award.

Flush with this success, Vannevar Bush suggested that Shannon work on his dissertation at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, funded by the Carnegie Institution headed by Bush, to develop similar mathematical relationships for Mendelian genetics, which resulted in Shannon's 1940 PhD thesis at MIT, An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics. Shannon then joined Bell Labs to work on fire-control systems and cryptography during World War II. He returned to MIT to hold an endowed chair in 1956.

In 1948 Shannon published A Mathematical Theory of Communication. This work focuses on the problem of how to best encode the information a sender wants to transmit. In this fundamental work he used tools in probability theory, developed by Norbert Wiener, which were in their nascent stages of being applied to communication theory at that time. Shannon developed information entropy as a measure for the uncertainty in a message while essentially inventing what became known as the dominant form of "information theory." The book co-authored with Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, reprints Shannon's 1948 article and Weaver's popularization of it, which is accessible to the non-specialist. Another notable paper published in 1949 is Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems, a major contribution to the development of a mathematical theory of cryptography. He is also credited with the introduction of the Sampling Theory, which is concerned with representing a continuous-time signal from a (uniform) discrete set of samples.

Outside of his academic pursuits, Shannon was interested in juggling, unicycling, and chess. He also invented many devices, including a chess-playing machine (rather described how one could operate in a paper published in 1950), a rocket-powered pogo stick, a wearable computer to predict the result of playing roulette [1] (, and a flame-throwing trumpet for a science exhibition. He met his wife Betty when she was a numerical analyst, i.e., a "computer," at Bell Labs.

From 1956 to 1978 he was a professor at MIT. To commemorate his achievements, there were celebrations of his work in 2001, and there are currently three copies of a statue of Shannon: one at the University of Michigan, one at MIT in the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and one at Bell Labs.

Awards and honors

See also


  • C. E. Shannon: A mathematical theory of communication. Bell System Technical Journal, vol. 27, pp. 379-423 and 623-656, July and October, 1948.
  • Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver: The Mathematical Theory of Communication. The University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, 1949. ISBN 0252725484

External links

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