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Claude Shannon

Claude ShannonAKA Claude Elwood Shannon, Jr.

Born: 30-Apr-1916
Birthplace: Petoskey, MI
Died: 24-Feb-2001
Location of death: Medford, MA
Cause of death: Alzheimer's

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist, Mathematician, Inventor

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Pioneer in information theory

American mathematician Claude Shannon defined the basics of how modern computers work, before there were any modern computers. As a boy he designed and built a working model airplane and a telegraph system that connected his bedroom to a friend's bedroom half a mile away. In adolescence he ran a fix-it shop in a back room at a local drug store. As a young man he studied under Norbert Wiener and, fascinated by George Boole's Laws of Thought, he showed in his Master's thesis how Boolean algebra could be applied in computer circuitry by organizing data as a series of simple yes/no switches. Now called the Magna Carta of the information age, it was an idea no-one had previously proposed. He calculated the maximum volume, or "channel capacity" in binary digits (or "bits", a term coined by Shannon) per second, of communication transmission over finite media, first over telephone lines, later in optical communications, and still later in wireless communications.

His landmark 1949 paper on cryptology changed the way highly-secure messages are coded, based on his theory that messages could be made virtually undecipherable if sufficient "redundancy" (extra bits) were added. He defined entropy as a measure of any communications system's efficiency, proposed programming a computer to play chess, described how a universal Turing machine could be designed with only two states, and wrote several important papers on various aspects of communication theory, cryptography, and information theory. Early in his career he worked alongside Vannevar Bush adjusting the gears and pulleys of the differential analyzer, Bush's pioneering mechanical computer. Some of Shannon's more groundbreaking ideas were grasped only by a few scientists, and could not be practically pursued until the arrival of solid-state electronics and integrated circuits.

In a long career at MIT, Shannon was the embodiment of the school's "eccentric genius" stereotype. He was known for traversing the university, indoor and outdoor, on his unicycle, and for his own amusement he designed and built such contraptions as a motorized pogo stick, a calculator that took input and gave answers only in Roman numerals, and numerous fully functional three-ball juggling machines. Based on a suggestion from Marvin Minsky, he built a working "ultimate machine" a box with a switch that, when switched on, powered a mechanical hand that emerged from the box to switch the switch back off, then withdrew into the box as the mechanism powered down. He was a distant cousin of Thomas Edison.

Father: Claude Elwood Shannon (judge, b. 1862, d. 1934)
Mother: Mabel Catherine Wolf Shannon (high school principal, b. 1880, d. 1945)
Sister: Catherine S. Kay
Wife: Mary Elizabeth Moore ("Betty", m. 27-Mar-1949, three sons, one daughter)
Son: Andrew Moore Shannon
Son: James Shannon
Daughter: Margarita Shannon ("Peggy")
Son: Robert Shannon

    High School: Gaylord High School, Gaylord, MI (1932)
    University: BS Electrical Engineering, University of Michigan (1936)
    University: BS Mathematics, University of Michigan (1936)
    Teacher: Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1936-38)
    University: MS Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1937)
    University: PhD Mathematics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1940)
    Scholar: Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ (1940-41)
    Professor: Electrical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1956-58)
    Professor: Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1958-78)

    Alfred Nobel American Institute of American Engineers Award 1940
    IRE Morris Liebmann Memorial Award 1948
    Franklin Institute Stuart Ballantine Medal 1955
    Marvin J. Kelly Award 1962
    IEEE Medal of Honor 1966
    National Medal of Science 1966
    Golden Plate Award 1967
    Harvey Prize 1972
    Jacquard Award 1978
    Harold Pender Award 1978
    John Fritz Medal 1983
    Kyoto Prize 1985
    Audio Engineering Society Gold Medal 1985
    Eduard Rhein Prize 1991
    Marconi Lifetime Achievement Award 2000
    National Inventors Hall of Fame 2004
    Western Union messenger (while in high school)
    Bell Laboratories (1937 and 1940-72)
    Member of the Board of Teledyne
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Mathematical Society
    American Philosophical Society 1983
    German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina Foreign Member
    Institute for Advanced Study (1940-41)
    National Academy of Engineering
    National Academy of Sciences
    Carnegie Institution for Science at Woods Hole (1938)
    Royal Society
    Eta Kappa Nu Honor Society
    Sigma Xi Scientific Research Society 1939
    Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society
    Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society
    Draft Deferment: World War II
    English Ancestry Paternal
    German Ancestry Maternal

Author of books:
A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948, non-fiction)
Automata Studies (1956, textbook, with John McCarthy)
Collected Papers (1993)

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