School of Information Science - Hall of Fame

Claude E. Shannon
  • Claude E. Shannon
  • Born: April 30, 1916
  • Died: February 27, 2001
  • Field: Information theory; mathematics and logic; communications; cryptography
  • Focus: Formulated mathematical theory and engineering principles leading to development of digital computer and modern digital communications. Referred to as the father of information theory.
  • Country: United States
  • Era: 1900 to 1949

Claude Shannon was a mathematician commonly referred to as the father of information theory. His combination of mathematical theory with engineering principles set the stage for the development of the digital computer and modern digital communications. His work on information entropy led to the development, with Richard Hamming, of self-checking messages and the concept of error-correcting code, and his theories had a profound impact on digital communications, cryptography, and relay and switching theory and technology.

Shannon's early analyses of the state of switches led him to mathematical comparisons with the theories of George Boole, who theorized that all equations were ultimately reducible to a binary system of ones and zeros (on or off, yes or no). His work eventually led him to develop a model that reduced information to a binary code in which all data is represented by binary digits set to either one or zero. He documented the theory in his master's thesis, for which he received the Alfred Noble Prize from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1940.

In 1948, he co-authored with Warren Weaver a paper entitled "The Mathematical Theory of Communication," in which he showed that all information sources have a source rate, measured in bits per second, and that all communications channels have a capacity measured in the same units; information can be transmitted over a channel only if the source rate does not exceed the channel capacity. It was in this work, for which he is perhaps best remembered, that Shannon first introduced the term 'bit' to describe the binary decision at the core of his groundbreaking theories.

Shannon worked for or was associated with AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1941 until 1972. He worked as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and as a research fellow at Princeton. He worked or interacted with such luminaries as Vannevar Bush, Herman Weyl, and Alan Turing. He was the author of more than 125 papers and the recipient of innumerable awards and honors, including the National Medal of Science in 1966 and honorary degrees from countless prestigious universities.

Shannon graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with both an M.S. and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1940. Prior to that, in 1936, he obtained B.S. degrees in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics from the University of Michigan.