The Shannon family lived in Gaylord, Michigan, and Claude was born in a hospital in nearby Petoskey. His father, Claude Sr. (1862–1934), was a businessman and for a while, a judge of probate in Gaylord. His mother, Mabel Wolf Shannon (1890–1945), was a language teacher, who also served as the principal of Gaylord High School. Claude Sr. was a descendant of New Jersey settlers, while Mabel was a child of German immigrants.
Most of the first 16 years of Shannon's life were spent in Gaylord, where he attended public school, graduating from Gaylord High School in 1932. Shannon showed an inclination towards mechanical and electrical things. His best subjects were science and mathematics. At home he constructed such devices as models of planes, a radio-controlled model boat and a barbed-wire telegraph system to a friend's house a half-mile away. While growing up, he also worked as a messenger for the Western Union company.
Shannon's childhood hero was Thomas Edison, who he later learned was a distant cousin. Both Shannon and Edison were descendants of John Ogden (1609–1682), a colonial leader and an ancestor of many distinguished people.
Using this property of electrical switches to implement logic is the fundamental concept that underlies all electronic digital computers. Shannon's work became the foundation of digital circuit design, as it became widely known in the electrical engineering community during and after World War II. The theoretical rigor of Shannon's work superseded the ad hoc methods that had prevailed previously. Howard Gardner called Shannon's thesis "possibly the most important, and also the most noted, master's thesis of the century."
Shannon received his PhD from MIT in 1940. Vannevar Bush had suggested that Shannon should work on his dissertation at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in order to develop a mathematical formulation for Mendeliangenetics. This research resulted in Shannon's PhD thesis, called An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics.
In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, the NDRC was issuing a summary of technical reports as a last step prior to its eventual closing down. Inside the volume on fire control, a special essay titled Data Smoothing and Prediction in Fire-Control Systems, coauthored by Shannon, Ralph Beebe Blackman, and Hendrik Wade Bode, formally treated the problem of smoothing the data in fire-control by analogy with "the problem of separating a signal from interfering noise in communications systems." In other words, it modeled the problem in terms of data and signal processing and thus heralded the coming of the Information Age.
Shannon's work on cryptography was even more closely related to his later publications on communication theory. At the close of the war, he prepared a classified memorandum for Bell Telephone Labs entitled "A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography", dated September 1945. A declassified version of this paper was published in 1949 as "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems" in the Bell System Technical Journal. This paper incorporated many of the concepts and mathematical formulations that also appeared in his A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Shannon said that his wartime insights into communication theory and cryptography developed simultaneously and that "they were so close together you couldn’t separate them". In a footnote near the beginning of the classified report, Shannon announced his intention to "develop these results … in a forthcoming memorandum on the transmission of information."
While he was at Bell Labs, Shannon proved that the cryptographicone-time pad is unbreakable in his classified research that was later published 1949. The same article also proved that any unbreakable system must have essentially the same characteristics as the one-time pad: the key must be truly random, as large as the plaintext, never reused in whole or part, and kept secret.
In 1948, the promised memorandum appeared as "A Mathematical Theory of Communication", an article in two parts in the July and October issues of the Bell System Technical Journal. This work focuses on the problem of how best to encode the message a sender wants to transmit. Shannon developed information entropy as a measure of the information content in a message, which is a measure of uncertainty reduced by the message. In so doing, he essentially invented the field of information theory.
The book The Mathematical Theory of Communication reprints Shannon's 1948 article and Warren Weaver's popularization of it, which is accessible to the non-specialist. Weaver pointed out that the word "information" in communication theory is not related to what you do say, but to what you could say. That is, information is a measure of one's freedom of choice when one selects a message. Shannon's concepts were also popularized, subject to his own proofreading, in John Robinson Pierce's Symbols, Signals, and Noise.
Information theory's fundamental contribution to natural language processing and computational linguistics was further established in 1951, in his article "Prediction and Entropy of Printed English", showing upper and lower bounds of entropy on the statistics of English – giving a statistical foundation to language analysis. In addition, he proved that treating whitespace as the 27th letter of the alphabet actually lowers uncertainty in written language, providing a clear quantifiable link between cultural practice and probabilistic cognition.
Another notable paper published in 1949 is "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems", a declassified version of his wartime work on the mathematical theory of cryptography, in which he proved that all theoretically unbreakable ciphers must have the same requirements as the one-time pad. He is also credited with the introduction of sampling theory, which is concerned with representing a continuous-time signal from a (uniform) discrete set of samples. This theory was essential in enabling telecommunications to move from analog to digital transmissions systems in the 1960s and later.
He returned to MIT to hold an endowed chair in 1956.
Shannon married Norma Levor, a wealthy, Jewish, left-wing intellectual in January 1940. The marriage ended in divorce after about a year. Levor later married Ben Barzman.
Shannon met his second wife, Betty Shannon (née Mary Elizabeth Moore), when she was a numerical analyst at Bell Labs. They were married in 1949. Betty assisted Claude in building some of his most famous inventions. They had three children.
Shannon's The Mathematical Theory of Communication, begins with an interpretation of his own work by Warren Weaver. Although Shannon's entire work is about communication itself, Warren Weaver communicated his ideas in such a way that those not acclimated to complex theory and mathematics could comprehend the fundamental laws he put forth. The coupling of their unique communicational abilities and ideas generated the Shannon-Weaver model, although the mathematical and theoretical underpinnings emanate entirely from Shannon's work after Weaver's introduction. For layman Weaver's introduction better communicates The Mathematical Theory of Communication, but Shannon's subsequent logic, mathematics, and expressive precision was responsible for defining the problem itself.
"Theseus", created in 1950, was a mechanical mouse controlled by an electromechanical relay circuit that enabled it to move around a labyrinth of 25 squares. The maze configuration was flexible and it could be modified arbitrarily by rearranging movable partitions. The mouse was designed to search through the corridors until it found the target. Having travelled through the maze, the mouse could then be placed anywhere it had been before, and because of its prior experience it could go directly to the target. If placed in unfamiliar territory, it was programmed to search until it reached a known location and then it would proceed to the target, adding the new knowledge to its memory and learning new behavior. Shannon's mouse appears to have been the first artificial learning device of its kind.
Shannon's estimate for the complexity of chess
On March 9, 1949, Shannon presented a paper called "Programming a Computer for playing Chess". The paper was presented at the National Institute for Radio Engineers Convention in New York. He described how to program a computer to play chess based on position scoring and move selection. He proposed basic strategies for restricting the number of possibilities to be considered in a game of chess. In March 1950 it was published in Philosophical Magazine, and is considered one of the first articles published on the topic of programming a computer for playing chess, and using a computer to solve the game.
His process for having the computer decide on which move to make was a minimax procedure, based on an evaluation function of a given chess position. Shannon gave a rough example of an evaluation function in which the value of the black position was subtracted from that of the white position. Material was counted according to the usual chess piece relative value (1 point for a pawn, 3 points for a knight or bishop, 5 points for a rook, and 9 points for a queen). He considered some positional factors, subtracting ½ point for each doubled pawn, backward pawn, and isolated pawn; mobility was incorporated by adding 0.1 point for each legal move available.
A detailed listing of confirmed events was available on the website of the IEEE Information Theory Society.
Some of the planned activities included:
Bell Labs hosted the First Shannon Conference on the Future of the Information Age on April 28–29, 2016, in Murray Hill, New Jersey, to celebrate Claude Shannon and the continued impact of his legacy on society. The event includes keynote speeches by global luminaries and visionaries of the information age who will explore the impact of information theory on society and our digital future, informal recollections, and leading technical presentations on subsequent related work in other areas such as bioinformatics, economic systems, and social networks. There is also a student competition
Bell Labs launched a Web exhibit on April 30, 2016, chronicling Shannon's hiring at Bell Labs (under an NDRC contract with US Government), his subsequent work there from 1942 through 1957, and details of Mathematics Department. The exhibit also displayed bios of colleagues and managers during his tenure, as well as original versions of some of the technical memoranda which subsequently became well known in published form.
The Republic of Macedonia is planning a commemorative stamp. A USPS commemorative stamp is being proposed, with an active petition.
A documentary on Claude Shannon and on the impact of information theory, The Bit Player, is being produced by Sergio Verdú and Mark Levinson.
A trans-Atlantic celebration of both George Boole's bicentenary and Claude Shannon's centenary that is being led by University College Cork and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A first event was a workshop in Cork, When Boole Meets Shannon, and will continue with exhibits at the Boston Museum of Science and at the MIT Museum.
Many organizations around the world are holding observance events, including the Boston Museum of Science, the Heinz-Nixdorf Museum, the Institute for Advanced Study, Technische Universität Berlin, University of South Australia (UniSA), Unicamp (Universidade Estadual de Campinas), University of Toronto, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Cairo University, Telecom ParisTech, National Technical University of Athens, Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, University of Maryland, University of Illinois at Chicago, École Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, The Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), University of California Los Angeles, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
A logo that appears on this page was crowdsourced on Crowdspring.
The Math Encounters presentation of May 4, 2016, at the National Museum of Mathematics in New York, titled Saving Face: Information Tricks for Love and Life, focused on Shannon's work in Information Theory. A video recording and other material are available.
^Turing, A.M. (1936), "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem", Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 2 (published 1937), vol. 42, pp. 230–65, doi:10.1112/plms/s2-42.1.230, S2CID73712
^Turing, A.M. (1938), "On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem: A correction", Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 2 (published 1937), vol. 43, no. 6, pp. 544–6, doi:10.1112/plms/s2-43.6.544
^Mindell, David A. (October 15, 2004). Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing Before Cybernetics. pp. 319–320. ISBN0801880572.
^William Poundstone (2010). Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System. Macmillan. p. 18. ISBN978-0-374-70708-8. Shannon described himself as an atheist and was outwardly apolitical.
Claude E. Shannon: Programming a Computer for Playing Chess, Philosophical Magazine, Ser.7, Vol. 41, No. 314, March 1950. (Available online under External links below)
David Levy: Computer Gamesmanship: Elements of Intelligent Game Design, Simon & Schuster, 1983. ISBN0-671-49532-1
Mindell, David A., "Automation's Finest Hour: Bell Labs and Automatic Control in World War II", IEEE Control Systems, December 1995, pp. 72–80.
David Mindell, Jérôme Segal, Slava Gerovitch, "From Communications Engineering to Communications Science: Cybernetics and Information Theory in the United States, France, and the Soviet Union" in Walker, Mark (Ed.), Science and Ideology: A Comparative History, Routledge, London, 2003, pp. 66–95.