Claude Elwood Shannon 30 April 1916 — 24 February 2001

Ioan James

Abstract

According to an anonymous obituary in The Times newspaper on 12 March 2001, Claude Shannon was

[a] playful genius who invented the bit, separated the medium from the message, and laid the foundations for all digital communications. … [He] single-handedly laid down the general rules of modern information theory, creating the mathematical foundations for a technical revolution. Without his clarity of thought and sustained ability to work his way through intractable problems, such advances as e-mail and the World Wide Web would not have been possible.

the great breakthroughs in understanding which heralded the convergence of computing and communications. To colleagues in the corridors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who used to warn each other about the unsteady advance of Shannon on his unicycle, it may have seemed improbable that he could remain serious for long enough to do any important work. Yet the unicycle was characteristic of his quirky thought processes, and became the topsy-turvy symbol of unorthodox progress towards unexpected theoretical insights.

The ability to make astonishing leaps beyond the intellects of his colleagues (all the more remarkable at MIT, the forcing house of technological theory) had to be acknowledged as genius, and Claude Shannon was recognised as a giant throughout the industry.