April 30, 2016
Claude Shannon’s 100th birthday
It’s impossible to overstate the legacy of Claude Shannon. The paper he wrote for his master’s thesis is the foundation of electronic digital computing. As a cryptographer for the U.S. Government during WWII, he developed the first unbreakable cipher. For fun, he tinkered with electronic switches, and one of his inventions--an electromechanic mouse he called Theseus--could teach itself to navigate a maze. If you’re thinking, “that sounds a lot like artificial intelligence,” you’re right. He regularly brushed shoulders with Einstein and Alan Turing, and his work in electronic communications and signal processing--the stuff that earned him the moniker “the father of information theory”--led to revolutionary changes in the storage and transmission of data.
Notwithstanding this staggering list of achievements in mathematics and engineering, Shannon managed to avoid one of the trappings of genius: taking oneself too seriously. A world-class prankster and juggler, he was often spotted in the halls of Bell Labs on a unicycle, and invented such devices as the rocket-powered frisbee and flame-throwing trumpet.
Animated by artist Nate Swinehart, today’s homepage celebrates the brilliance and lightheartedness of the father of modern digital communication on what would have been his 100th birthday.