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Shannon was born in Petoskey, Michigan and grew up in Gaylord, Michigan.[4] His father, Claude, Sr. (1862–1934), a descendant of early settlers of New Jersey, was a self-made businessman, and for a while, a Judge of Probate. Shannon's mother, Mabel Wolf Shannon (1890–1945), was a language teacher, and also served as the principal of Gaylord High School.
Most of the first 16 years of Shannon's life were spent in Gaylord, where he attended public school, graduating from Gaylord High School in 1932. Shannon showed an inclination towards mechanical and electrical things. His best subjects were science and mathematics. At home he constructed such devices as models of planes, a radio-controlled model boat and a wireless telegraph system to a friend's house a half-mile away. While growing up, he also worked under Andrew Coltrey as a messenger for the Western Union company.
His childhood hero was Thomas Edison, who he later learned was a distant cousin. Both were descendants of John Ogden (1609–1682), a colonial leader and an ancestor of many distinguished people.[5][6]
Shannon was apolitical and an atheist.[7]
Logic Circuits[edit]
In 1932, Shannon entered the University of Michigan, where he was introduced to the work of George Boole. He graduated in 1936 with two bachelor's degrees: one in electrical engineering and the other in mathematics.
In 1936, Shannon began his graduate studies in electrical engineering at MIT, where he worked on Vannevar Bush's differential analyzer, an early analog computer.[8] While studying the complicated ad hoc circuits of this analyzer, Shannon designed switching circuits based on Boole's concepts. In 1937, he wrote his master's degree thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits,[9] A paper from this thesis was published in 1938.[10] In this work, Shannon proved that his switching circuits could be used to simplify the arrangement of the electromechanical relays that were used then in telephone call routing switches. Next, he expanded this concept, proving that these circuits could solve all problems that Boolean algebra could solve. In the last chapter, he presents diagrams of several circuits, including a 4-bit full adder.[9]
Using this property of electrical switches to implement logic is the fundamental concept that underlies all electronic digital computers. Shannon's work became the foundation of digital circuit design, as it became widely known in the electrical engineering community during and after World War II. The theoretical rigor of Shannon's work superseded the ad hoc methods that had prevailed previously. Howard Gardner called Shannon's thesis "possibly the most important, and also the most noted, master's thesis of the century."[11]
Shannon received his Ph.D. degree from MIT in 1940. Vannevar Bush suggested that Shannon should work on his dissertation at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, in order to develop a mathematical formulation for Mendelian genetics. This research resulted in Shannon's Ph.D. thesis, called An Algebra for Theoretical Genetics.[12]
In 1940, Shannon became a National Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In Princeton, Shannon had the opportunity to discuss his ideas with influential scientists and mathematicians such as Hermann Weyl and John von Neumann, and he also had occasional encounters with Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Shannon worked freely across disciplines, and this ability may have contributed to his later development of mathematical Information theory.[13]
Wartime research[edit]
Shannon then joined Bell Labs to work on fire-control systems and cryptography during World War II, under a contract with section D-2 (Control Systems section) of the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC).
Shannon is credited with the invention of signal-flow graphs, in 1942. He discovered the topological gain formula while investigating the functional operation of an analog computer.[14]
For two months early in 1943, Shannon came into contact with the leading British mathematician Alan Turing. Turing had been posted to Washington to share with the U.S. Navy's cryptanalytic service the methods used by the British Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park to break the ciphers used by the Kriegsmarine U-boats in the north Atlantic Ocean.[15] He was also interested in the encipherment of speech and to this end spent time at Bell Labs. Shannon and Turing met at teatime in the cafeteria.[15] Turing showed Shannon his 1936 paper that defined what is now known as the "Universal Turing machine";[16][17] this impressed Shannon, as many of its ideas complemented his own.
In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, the NDRC was issuing a summary of technical reports as a last step prior to its eventual closing down. Inside the volume on fire control, a special essay titled Data Smoothing and Prediction in Fire-Control Systems, coauthored by Shannon, Ralph Beebe Blackman, and Hendrik Wade Bode, formally treated the problem of smoothing the data in fire-control by analogy with "the problem of separating a signal from interfering noise in communications systems."[18] In other words, it modeled the problem in terms of data and signal processing and thus heralded the coming of the Information Age.
Shannon's work on cryptography was even more closely related to his later publications on communication theory.[19] At the close of the war, he prepared a classified memorandum for Bell Telephone Labs entitled "A Mathematical Theory of Cryptography," dated September 1945. A declassified version of this paper was published in 1949 as "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems" in the Bell System Technical Journal. This paper incorporated many of the concepts and mathematical formulations that also appeared in his A Mathematical Theory of Communication. Shannon said that his wartime insights into communication theory and cryptography developed simultaneously and that "they were so close together you couldn’t separate them".[20] In a footnote near the beginning of the classified report, Shannon announced his intention to "develop these results … in a forthcoming memorandum on the transmission of information."[21]
While he was at Bell Labs, Shannon proved that the cryptographic one-time pad is unbreakable in his classified research that was later published in October 1949. He also proved that any unbreakable system must have essentially the same characteristics as the one-time pad: the key must be truly random, as large as the plaintext, never reused in whole or part, and be kept secret.[22]
Later on in the American Venona project, a supposed "one-time pad" system by the Soviets was partially broken by the National Security Agency, but this was because of misuses of the one-time pads by Soviet cryptographic technicians in the United States and Canada. The Soviet technicians made the mistake of sometimes using the same pads more than once, and this was noticed by American cryptanalysts.
Information theory[edit]
In 1948, the promised memorandum appeared as "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," an article in two parts in the July and October issues of the Bell System Technical Journal. This work focuses on the problem of how best to encode the information a sender wants to transmit. In this fundamental work, he used tools in probability theory, developed by Norbert Wiener, which were in their nascent stages of being applied to communication theory at that time. Shannon developed information entropy as a measure of the uncertainty in a message while essentially inventing the field of information theory.
The book, co-authored with Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication, reprints Shannon's 1948 article and Weaver's popularization of it, which is accessible to the non-specialist. Warren Weaver pointed out that the word information in communication theory is not related to what you do say, but to what you could say. That is, information is a measure of one's freedom of choice when one selects a message. Shannon's concepts were also popularized, subject to his own proofreading, in John Robinson Pierce's Symbols, Signals, and Noise.
Information theory's fundamental contribution to natural language processing and computational linguistics was further established in 1951, in his article "Prediction and Entropy of Printed English", showing upper and lower bounds of entropy on the statistics of English – giving a statistical foundation to language analysis. In addition, he proved that treating whitespace as the 27th letter of the alphabet actually lowers uncertainty in written language, providing a clear quantifiable link between cultural practice and probabilistic cognition.
Another notable paper published in 1949 is "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems", a declassified version of his wartime work on the mathematical theory of cryptography, in which he proved that all theoretically unbreakable ciphers must have the same requirements as the one-time pad. He is also credited with the introduction of sampling theory, which is concerned with representing a continuous-time signal from a (uniform) discrete set of samples. This theory was essential in enabling telecommunications to move from analog to digital transmissions systems in the 1960s and later.
He returned to MIT to hold an endowed chair in 1956.
Teaching at MIT[edit]
In 1956 Shannon joined the MIT faculty to work in the Research Laboratory of Electronics (RLE). He continued to serve on the MIT faculty until 1978.
Later life[edit]
Shannon developed Alzheimer's disease and spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home in Massachusetts oblivious to the marvels of the digital revolution he had helped create. He died in 2001. He was survived by his wife, Mary Elizabeth Moore Shannon, his son, Andrew Moore Shannon, his daughter, Margarita Shannon, his sister, Catherine Shannon Kay, and his two granddaughters.[23][24] His wife stated in his obituary that, had it not been for Alzheimer's disease, "He would have been bemused" by it all.[25]
Hobbies and inventions[edit]
The Minivac 601, a digital computer trainer designed by Shannon.
Outside of his academic pursuits, Shannon was interested in juggling, unicycling, and chess. He also invented many devices, including a Roman numeral computer called THROBAC, juggling machines, and a flame-throwing trumpet.[26] One of his more humorous devices was a box kept on his desk called the "Ultimate Machine", based on an idea by Marvin Minsky. Otherwise featureless, the box possessed a single switch on its side. When the switch was flipped, the lid of the box opened and a mechanical hand reached out, flipped off the switch, then retracted back inside the box. Renewed interest in the "Ultimate Machine" has emerged on YouTube and Thingiverse. In addition, he built a device that could solve the Rubik's Cube puzzle.[5]
Shannon designed the Minivac 601, a digital computer trainer to teach business people about how computers functioned. It was sold by the Scientific Development Corp starting in 1961.
He is also considered the co-inventor of the first wearable computer along with Edward O. Thorp.[27] The device was used to improve the odds when playing roulette.
Personal life[edit]
Shannon met his wife Betty when she was a numerical analyst at Bell Labs. They were married in 1949.[23]
Shannon had three children, Robert James Shannon, Andrew Moore Shannon, and Margarita Shannon, and raised his family in Winchester, Massachusetts. His oldest son, Robert Shannon, died in 1998 at the age of 45.

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