Happy 100th Birthday Claude Shannon
Overview of Shannon’s Work
Most importantly, Shannon, in his 1937 Master’s Thesis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology applied George Boole’s algebra (better known now as Boolean Algebra) to electric circuits thereby making the modern digital revolution possible. To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, the typical high school student can now read and understand all of its content. If you’d like to give it a try, you can download it from MIT’s website.
His other huge accomplishment was a journal article he wrote in 1948 entitled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in the Bell Labs Journal. When it was republished a year later, one of the most notable changes was in the new title “The Mathematical Theory of Communication.” While copies of the original article are freely available on the internet, the more casual reader will appreciate the more recent edition from MIT Press which also includes a fabulous elucidative and extensive opening written by Warren Weaver. This paper contains the theoretical underpinning that allowed for the efflorescence of all modern digital communication to occur. It ranks as one of the most influential and far-reaching documents in human history rivaling even the Bible.
Further, my own excitement in Shannon stems in part from his Ph.D. thesis “An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics” (1940) which has inspired most of the theoretical material I’m always contemplating.
For those looking for more information try some of the following (non-technical) sources:
- Wikipedia: Claude Shannon
- Siobhan Roberts has a nice short article “Claude Shannon, the Father of the Information Ages, Turns 1100100” in today’s New Yorker. It coincidentally also mentions an anecdote involving my friend Sol Golomb at the end.
- James Gleick, author of Chaos and Genius, recently wrote the book The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood which is very accessible to the non-specialist.