Claude E. Shannon, 1916-2001

Posted 27 Feb 2001 at 00:14 UTC by schoen Share This

According to Dave Farber, Claude Shannon is dead.

Readers of my diary will remember that I remarked over the weekend that Dr. Shannon was still alive -- which may have been true at the time.

Shannon was one of the greatest scientists of this century and was particularly responsible for our modern concepts of Boolean algebra for logic synthesis, bits, bandwidth, information, signal and noise, and error detection and correction (as well as important work in cryptography). He is the single most important pioneer of modern communications theory. He was an avid juggler and wrote a paper on the mathematical theory of juggling which is still read by modern juggling researchers.

Everyone who designs a logic circuit or uses telecommunications owes something to Shannon.

Some people also believe that Shannon's information theory has a very deep relevance to physics; a lot of current studies of thermodynamics focus on the relation between Shannon entropy and thermodynamic entropy.

The AT&T Research lab in New Jersey which does research in information theory is called the Shannon Lab in his honor.

Some more information about Dr. Shannon:

Didn't Turing work with Shannon during WWII?, posted 27 Feb 2001 at 10:05 UTC by goingware » (Master)

If I recall correctly, during a World War II visit to the United States, Alan Turing worked with Shannon at Bell Labs to build an encrypted voice phone that would allow Roosevelt to have live, secure transatlantic strategic conversations across the pond with Churchill.

This is discussed in the book Alan Turing, The Enigma, which I highly recommend.

The problem with the cryptographic radio was that it took up a whole room and Roosevelt had to drive down to the pentagon to use it. I think there may have been two such units at each end, one for the politicos and another for the military commanders, but I may not be remembering right.

In the years after World War II, Turing built a much smaller, desktop unit that used a few vacuum tube multivibrator circuits that would allow seven minutes of secure conversation before you had to halt it and enter a new key. The pseudorandom sequence that was used as a one-time pad would start to repeat you see.

Imagine what Roosevelt and Churchill would have done to have just been able to use PGP and Speak Freely over the Internet. The leaders got to talk occassionally but everyone else had to send encrypted telegrams with morse code.

It's because of Shannon that we can all do so much that we take for granted now.

Bell Labs obituary, posted 27 Feb 2001 at 20:22 UTC by schoen » (Master)

slashdot noted this obituary for Shannon at Bell Labs.

See also the Associated Press obituary.

Grammatical Man, posted 5 Mar 2001 at 04:20 UTC by tetron » (Journeyer)

Another book on the history of Information Theory, with a significant section talking about Claude Shannon is _Grammatical Man_ by Jeremy Campbell (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982). I highly recommend it for a good layperson discussion of the implications of information theory on many scientific fields.

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