In the arms of the loving spring, in sight of its flowers, and on the leaves of one of the defining moments in the life of history, a young child was born to a businessman and former judge in the US state of Michigan named Elwood Shannon on April 30, 1916, which is why you are reading these lines on your computer or your smartphone now.
Claude Shannon is widely considered one of the most influential minds of the twentieth century, after his contributions to the field of communication theory and digital technology revolutionized the way we communicate online. From his pioneering research in information theory to his work on cryptography, Shannon's work laid the scientific foundations for modern communication systems and the Internet as we know it today.
Growing up has the greatest impact on a person. Little Claude grew up in a family that valued intellectual curiosity and encouraged his love of math and science. He excelled in his studies and invested in it, joining the University of Michigan, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1936, and after completing his undergraduate studies, Shannon joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to pursue his postgraduate studies.
During his time at MIT, Shannon began his pioneering research in the field of communication theory, which culminated in the publication of his seminal paper, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication" in 1948, and is today seen as the foundation of modern communication systems.
An unusual type of young man
They always say that great writers leave behind books, not biographies. Their work has so consumed their lives that there are few words left for them to write about themselves. Even if we had the privilege of watching them scribble away for hours each day, we would find out more about them just by reading. pages of their books. This fully applies to Claude Shannon during his early working years, as he worked with an intensity and focus he would never match in his life again.
Shannon's work was also different. Unlike his companions who were involved in understanding and building physical tools, he had a passion for seeing beyond material things, specifically the abstract concepts on which these things are built. He even sought to see and understand the work of juggling such as the one-wheeled bicycle and others. of acrobatic activities using equations.
In this sense, Shannon's brilliance was not only due to his quantitative computational ability, as much as it stemmed from his ability to simplify big problems to their essential essence. He was an abstract man, who took a step back from the world, his loneliness guiding his work. Although his deep withdrawal and shyness may have hampered his social life, they also allowed him to gain a unique perspective on the world. For him, material human artefacts were just cheap substitutes for the true reality of numbers, theories, and logic.
Before Shannon's era, "information theory" was hidden in the folds of science and hovered behind the scenes like a ghost, as in the research of the physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz who, through his experiments with frog muscles, recorded the speed of nerve signals. (1) It was also present in the works of physicists Rudolf Clausius and Ludwig Boltzmann, on thermal inertia (entropy), which opened wide doors for understanding information transmission systems. More importantly, information theory exemplifies the networks that arose from the initial attempt to achieve communication and the transmission of information and messages between any two points.
Back then, when Claude Shannon was still a young child, global communications networks had evolved from simple wires that carried electricity to complex machines that spanned continents. Audio signals traveled thousands of miles through the signal amplifiers that prevented them from fading, and the first phone calls were a living torment because of the loud noise that accompanies the process of transmitting information. (1)
Communication is one of the most basic human needs, from homing pigeons to the telephone to television, humans have always sought ways to allow them to communicate more, faster, and more reliably, but the engineering of communication systems has always been related to the source of information and the medium in which it is transmitted. Instead, Shannon asked an unorthodox question: "Could there be a great unified theory of communication?" In a 1939 letter to his mentor, Vannevar Bush, Shannon outlined some of his initial thoughts on "essential properties of general systems of intelligence transmission." (1) (2) At that time, the word “information” was not used among researchers and scientists to express what we call information today. From the youth", was the beginning of Shannon's search for "intelligence" that would later pave the way for all the modern digital technologies that exist today, including artificial intelligence.
The legal father of information theory
After working on this question for a decade, Shannon finally published his 1948 masterpiece, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, laying the foundation for all modern communication, from the analog audio signal on a landline telephone line to wireless internet on your phone. smart. (4)
While Shannon's masterpiece is primarily a communication theory, it is also a theory about how information is produced and transmitted, so it is "information theory", and thus Shannon is now considered the father of information theory.
To understand one of Shannon's important ideas, let's say you're speaking in a very noisy place. What's the best way to make sure your message gets through? Maybe repeat your words several times? This is definitely the first thought you might have. Sure, the more you repeat your words, the more reliable the connection, but you're sacrificing speed for reliability. Shannon showed us that we could do a much better job. Instead of repeating the message, perhaps we should encode it into special symbols that only the receiver would understand and would not be affected by the ambient noise. Thus, speed and reliability could be combined.
It does not matter much in this case the nature of the message or the type of information desired to be conveyed, whether it is a short story by Naguib Mahfouz, a symphony by Beethoven, or a film by Wang Kar-wai, the most effective way to convey it is by converting it into coded fragments.
This insight paved the way for the digital age, where bits prevail as the global currency of information (5), but Shannon's achievements did not stop there, as his subsequent research contributed to the development of the concept of logical gates, which are like an electronic circuit containing (one or more inputs) and one output, where it performs a logical operation on the input and produces the required output, and the "logical gate" is a very vital concept in building the processors of electronic devices and computers. (6) (7)
In 1950, Shannon published an article in Scientific American describing how to program a computer to play chess. Shannon's chess program was a landmark. He was able to analyze the different games and break the program into subprograms. He even suggested improving the program by analyzing more games.
During a time when there were only a few computers in the world, Claude Shannon's paper dared to imagine programs that did more than just numerical computations. Shannon focused on chess programming as a test case for the hypothesis if computers could really "think" and whether playing more games could make the program more efficient. Later, this hypothesis was validated by Arthur Samuel, an IBM engineer who used the same method to improve a program for playing checkers. In 1959, Samuel published a paper on this process, and he coined the term "machine learning" for the first time. (8)
In just one paper, Shannon's contributions span information theory, logic gates, non-numeric computer programming, data structures, and machine learning, and his work paved the way for the modern computer age we enjoy today. Although we may never see another mind like him again, Claude Shannon's legacy will live on.
Shannon was, and continues to be, an inspiration to many scientists and engineers who came after him. His works and ideas continue to form the basis for many applications and modern technologies in many fields, including communications, computer science, neuroscience, artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptography, security, and others.
A man who does not like the spotlight
Although he spent most of his working life in scientific research, Shannon was a man of many talents and interests. He loved to play games, solve puzzles, and design new games. He was skilled in playing musical instruments and writing poetry. He also had a keen interest in philosophy, and spoke several languages fluently.
Now, you might be wondering, if one man has so much influence over our present world, then why isn't he as famous as Einstein or Edison? The answer is simply that he is a man who does not like the limelight. Nearly two years after the publication of his paper, Shannon was appalled by the popularity his theory had received, and he thought the interest in it was exaggerated. Everyone in our world today, without exception, understands that this was one of the rare times that Shannon was wrong.
The man was apparently afraid that all this momentum would lead him to lose himself, so he decided to withdraw and stop giving lectures and not giving press interviews. The "prophet of the information age" refused fame and attention, and began avoiding responding to e-mail, until he ended up collecting unanswered messages in a folder called "Messages You've Procrastinated To Respond To". (1)
As a mysterious star, Shannon preferred to withdraw from public life, and in order to complete the saga of isolation, Alzheimer's disease chose him at the end of his life as a new victim, but he did not die before putting his mark on everything we consider "normal" in the digital life we live today.
1- A Mind at Play, Jimmy Sonni and Rob Goodman
2- The Essential Message: Claude Shannon and the Making of Information Theory
3- A Mathematical Theory of Communication: By CE SHANNON
5- The Bit player: The prophet of information.
6- A symbolic analysis of relay and switching circuits, Claude Shannon
7- IEEE Spectrum: Claude Shannon Paved the Way for AI?
8- Some Studies in Machine Learning Using the Game of Checkers