Communications Pioneer Dead at 84
Claude Shannon was a curious man, a juggler who rode his unicycle in the hallways of AT&T Bell Laboratories and the mathematician who laid the foundation for all digital communications back when the biggest pipes could carry only 1,800 voice conversations at a time. He died Feb. 24 at the age of 84.
Shannons seminal work was his Massachusetts Institute of Technology masters thesis, A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits. The thesis, considered one of the most important ever written, established the fundamental theories of digital circuits the basis for the operation of computers and telecommunications systems.
Shannons second great work, A Mathematical Theory of Communications, published a decade later in 1948, established the framework and terminology of coding theory the study of how to efficiently and reliably move information over so-called noisy channels.
"We all have an intuitive understanding of what communication means," said Patrick Regan, a spokesman at Bell Labs, which is now part of Lucent Technologies. "He defined it mathematically."
Shannons information-theory concepts are in use today by telecommunications scientists working to move larger and larger streams of data over faster channels, which now manage 6.4 million converations at a time.
"He was one of the great scientists of all times," said Serap Savari, an information theorist at Bell Labs. "Its a pity that more people dont know more about him."