Claude Shannon

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Claude Shannon (around 1963)

Claude Elwood Shannon (born April 30, 1916 in Petoskey , Michigan , † February 24, 2001 in Medford , Massachusetts ) was an American mathematician and electrical engineer . He is considered the founder of information theory .


Claude Shannon was born in a hospital in Petoskey , Michigan and grew up in nearby Gaylord , their parents' residence. In some biographies, Gaylord is therefore incorrectly stated as the place of birth. His father was a judge, his mother a language teacher of German origin. During his high school years he worked as a messenger for the Western Union .

He followed his sister Catherine to the University of Michigan in 1932 . She graduated from mathematics that year, and he began studying electrical engineering and mathematics. In 1936 he moved with a degree in mathematics and electrical engineering at the MIT . In his final thesis for Master in Electrical Engineering (1937), A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits , he used Boolean algebra to the design of digital circuits. The work arose from the analysis of the relay circuits in the differential analyzer analog computer by Vannevar Bush (Dean of Engineering at MIT), which Shannon programmed for users. In 1940 he earned his doctorate in mathematics with a thesis on theoretical genetics (An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics) at MIT.

After a short stay as a researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton , New Jersey , he joined AT&T Bell Labs, also located in New Jersey, as a mathematician in 1941 . There he met Mary Elisabeth Moore, technical assistant at the Microwave Research Department . They married in 1949 and had two sons and a daughter.

After taking up a visiting professorship at MIT in 1956, he moved there entirely in 1958, as Donner Professor of Science . In 1978 he was at MIT emeritus . He maintained his professional relationship with Bell Labs as a consultant until 1972. In the last years of his life he suffered from Alzheimer's disease , from the consequences of which he also died.


In 1948 he published his groundbreaking work A Mathematical Theory of Communication (German mathematical foundations in information theory ). In this article, he concentrated on the problem under which conditions information encoded by a transmitter and transmitted through a disturbed communication channel can be restored at the destination, i.e. decoded without loss of information. He was able to successfully apply the concept of entropy, known from physics, to information theory.

At the same time he published the article Communication in the presence of noise ("Message transmission in the presence of background noise"), in which he presented the representation of frequency-limited functions by the cardinal series according to John Macnaghten Whittaker (1929 and 1935) with considerations about the maximum data rate, especially by Harry Nyquist , linked to a theory of channel capacity in digital signal transmission. Before him, but without his knowledge, Vladimir Alexandrowitsch Kotelnikow published an identical result in 1933. Accordingly, the sampling rate for a signal must be at least twice as high as the highest frequency it contains in order to be reconstructed into an analog signal without loss of information ( Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem ).

Another noteworthy article appeared in 1949, Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems , in which Shannon clarified the formal foundations of cryptography and thus raised it to the rank of a science in its own right.

Theseus Maze , MIT Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Shannon was eclectic and creative; he is said to have juggled around on a unicycle in the corridors of Bell . Rand products to his professional activities include a juggling engine rocket-powered Frisbees , motorized Pogostöcke , a machine for reading of thoughts , a mechanical mouse ( Theseus , 1950), which by means of a simple memory consisting of a relay circuits in labyrinths could orient, and already in the 1960s an early chess computer . A work from 1950 already deals with chess programs. The work was influential and led to the first game of chess on computers on the MANIAC machine in Los Alamos in 1956. He also built the " ultimate machine ", a box with a switch that a mechanical hand turned "off" after one turned it on. The unit of information content of a message, the Shannon , was named after him.

In the mid-1960s he began to be interested in financial transactions and gave several well-attended lectures about it at MIT (one of his listeners was Paul Samuelson ). He proposed a process known today as Constant Proportion Rebalanced Portfolio in order to make a profit from random fluctuations in the market (after each transaction the capital is divided into exactly two halves, one for speculation, the other cash reserve).

After AT&T was split up in 1996, most of Bell Labs was added to the new Lucent Technologies company . AT & T's research laboratory in Florham Park , New Jersey, was named AT&T Shannon Laboratory in his honor .

His research results in the area of Boolean algebras include the inversion theorem and Shannon's expansion theorem .


In 1939 he received the Alfred Noble Prize . In 1956 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences , 1957 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and 1983 to the American Philosophical Society . In 1966 he received the National Medal of Science . In 1970 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina . In 1985 he received the Kyoto Prize, which was first awarded at the time . In 1991 he was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society .

On April 30, 2016 - for his 100th birthday - Google dedicated a doodle to him, which shows him juggling with three binary numbers "0", "0" and "1".

In his hometown Gaylord, a park is named after him, in which his sculpture is located.


  • Neil Sloane , Aaron Wyner (Eds.): Claude Elwood Shannon: Collected Papers , New York 1993. ISBN 978-0-7803-0434-5 .
  • R. Price: A conversation with Claude Shannon: one man's approach to problem solving , Cryptologia, Volume 9, Issue 2, 1985, pp. 167-175 and IEEE Comm. Mag., Vol. 22, 1985, pp. 123-126.
  • Warren Weaver , Claude Elwood Shannon: The Mathematical Theory of Communication . University of Illinois Press, Urbana Ill 1949. ISBN 0-252-72548-4 .
    • Mathematical foundations in information theory. Translated by Helmut Dressler. Oldenbourg, Munich 1976. ISBN 3-486-39851-2 (German edition).
  • Axel Roch: Claude E. Shannon. Toys, life and the secret story of his theory of information. Gegenstalt Verlag, Berlin 2009. ISBN 978-3-9813156-0-8 .
  • Ioan James: Claude Elwood Shannon April 30, 1916 - February 24, 2001 , Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. 55, 2009, pp. 257-265.
  • James Gleick : The information: history, theory, flood , Redline Verlag 2011. ISBN 978-3-86881-312-8 .
  • Jimmy Soni, Rob Goodman: A Mind at Play , Simon and Schuster, New York 2017. ISBN 978-1-4767-6668-3 .
  • K. Jäger, F. Heilbronner (Ed.): Lexikon der Elektrotechniker , VDE Verlag, 2nd edition from 2010, Berlin / Offenbach, ISBN 978-3-8007-2903-6 , pp. 401-402.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ioan James , Claude Shannon, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 55, 2009, p. 259, PDF . Among others in Robert Slater, Portraits in Silicon , MIT Press 1989, and in Guido Walz (Ed.), Lexikon der Mathematik, Spektrum Verlag, 2nd edition 2017, Gaylord is mentioned, in the obituaries for example in the New York Times (George Johnson: Claude Shannon, Mathematician, Dies at 84 , Feb.27, 2001) is Petoskey.
  2. published in Transactions Institute American Engineering, Vol. 57, 1938
  3. ^ Claude Elwood Shannon: A Mathematical Theory of Communication. In: Bell System Technical Journal. Short Hills NJ 27.1948, (July, October), pp. 379-423, 623-656. ISSN  0005-8580
  4. In the beginning there was the bit: on the 100th birthday of Claude Shannon. In: heise online. Retrieved April 30, 2016 .
  5. ^ Claude Shannon: Communication in the Presence of Noise . Stanford University (PDF, English; 301 kB). First Proc. IRE Vol. 37, 1949, pp. 10-21.
  6. ^ Name of Whittaker. See Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem
  7. ^ Claude Elwood Shannon: Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems . In: Bell System Technical Journal . tape 28 , no. 4 , 1949, pp. 656-715 ( [PDF]).
  8. ^ Claude Shannon: The Juggling Unicyclist Who Pedaled Us Into the Digital Age . From:, accessed April 6, 2018
  9. ^ A b Jon Gertner: The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation . Penguin, New York 2012, ISBN 978-1-59420-328-2 , chapter The Informationist and Man and Machine .
  10. Programming a computer to play chess , Philosophical Magazine, Vol. 41, 1950, No. 314
  11. Frank Thadeusz: The life of the strange. In: Der Spiegel. No. 45, Hamburg 2009. ISSN  0038-7452
  12. William Poundstone: Fortune's Formula , 2005, chapter Shannon's Demon ( alluding to the analogy to Maxwell's Demon ).
  13. ^ AT&T Research Locations
  14. ^ Entry on Shannon, Claude Elwood (1916–2001) in the Archives of the Royal Society , London
  15. 100th birthday of Claude Shannon , Google, April 30, 2016. (English)
  16. Claude Shannon Park in his hometown of Gaylord