Claude Shannon left the University in 1936, but his theories about computers and their influence on communication are still in use.

Paul Wong

Shannon, 84, died Feb. 24 at his home near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned his master”s and doctoral degrees and taught computer science and mathematics from 1957 until 1978.

Several bronze busts of Shannon, sponsored by the Information Theory Society of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, are being cast to commemorate Shannon”s life and work.

Electrical engineering and computer science Prof. David Neuhoff said there are plans for one of the statues to be placed near the EECS building on North Campus this spring.

The first statue was dedicated in October near Gaylord. Shannon”s childhood home.

“There are two statues of him in New Jersey. One is at the Lucent Technologies headquarters and the other is at AT&T. Eventually there will be one at MIT,” said his wife, Betty Shannon.

Raised in a family of innovators his grandfather helped invent the washing machine Shannon learned to test the limits of conventional knowledge and baffle computer scientists.

For fun, he “taught” computers how to play chess, developed a mathematical theory of juggling and invented a motorized pogo stick.

By inventing an electrical mouse that can find its way through a maze, Shannon demonstrated that computers could learn. Previously, scientists were simply using computers as counting tools.

Shannon pioneered the field of “information theory,” which determines the theoretical limit of a channel”s information-carrying capacity. Digital systems that configure information, such as the Internet, would not be possible without Shannon”s theory.

“Few other works of this century have had a greater impact on science and engineering,” said University of Southern California Prof. Irving Reed of Shannon”s paper, “A Mathematical Theory of Communication.”

This paper revolutionized the way information is sent through telephone lines. Shannon proposed the use of a binary code, also known as bits, to make telephone communication quicker and less noisy.

The fields of investment theory, cryptology, probability, biology and even English use this theory to make sense of information.

That impact was one of Shannon”s laments. He feared the overuse of his theory, telling the New York Times that it had “perhaps ballooned to an importance beyond its actual accomplishments.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *