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Claude E. Shannon

Claude E. Shannon Biography

A documentary produced by UCSD-TV, the Jacobs School of Engineering, and the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, about the father of information theory, the late Claude Shannon.

Claude E. Shannon Obituary

Dr. Claude Elwood Shannon, the American mathematician and computer scientist whose theories laid the groundwork for the electronic communications networks that now lace the earth, died on Saturday, February 24, 2001 in Medford, Mass., after a long fight with Alzheimer's disease. He was 84.

Understanding, before almost anyone, the power that springs from encoding information in a simple language of 1's and 0's, Dr. Shannon as a young man wrote two papers that remain monuments in the fields of computer science and information theory. "Shannon was the person who saw that the binary digit was the fundamental element in all of communication," said Dr. Robert G. Gallager, a professor of electrical engineering who worked with Dr. Shannon at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "That was really his discovery, and from it the whole communications revolution has sprung."

Dr. Shannon's later work on chess- playing machines and an electronic mouse that could run a maze helped create the field of artificial intelligence, the effort to make machines that think. And his ability to combine abstract thinking with a practical approach — he had a penchant for building machines — inspired a generation of computer scientists. Dr. Marvin Minsky of M.I.T., who as a young theorist worked closely with Dr. Shannon, was struck by his enthusiasm and enterprise. "Whatever came up, he engaged it with joy, and he attacked it with some surprising resource — which might be some new kind of technical concept or a hammer and saw with some scraps of wood," Dr. Minsky said. "For him, the harder a problem might seem, the better the chance to find something new." Born in Petoskey, Mich., on April 30, 1916, Claude Elwood Shannon got a bachelor's degree in mathematics and electrical engineering from the University of Michigan in 1936. He got both a master's degree in electrical engineering and his Ph.D. in mathematics from M.I.T. in 1940.

While at M.I.T., he worked with Dr. Vannevar Bush on one of the early calculating machines, the "differential analyzer," which used a precisely honed system of shafts, gears, wheels and disks to solve equations in calculus. Though analog computers like this turned out to be little more than footnotes in the history of the computer, Dr. Shannon quickly made his mark with digital electronics, a considerably more influential idea.